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Aristide Cavaillé-Coll


Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s figure crosses the whole industrious French 19th century.

Cavaill jeuneBorn February 4th, 1811, in Montpellier (South of France), in a family of organbuilders from Gaillac, he did his apprenticeship with his brother Vincent in the family business run by his father Dominique.

The organbuilding company Cavaillé-Coll "père & fils" ("father & sons") moves to Paris in 1833 and establishes there various contacts among the finest scientists and public figures of the time.

The company develops itself, helped by Aristide’s gifted skills, and won the prestigious tender to reconstruct the great organ from the Saint-Denis Basilica near Paris, in which French kings where crowned and buried. 

This first spectacular construction already contains all of Cavaillé-Coll’s genuis: the Swell is enclosed and made expressive in order for the organist to modulate the volume, stops imitating symphonic orchestra’s timbres are added and numerous technical innovations, including a pneumatic assistance for the manuals’ action, taken and improved from the British Charles Barker’s works. The introduction of such a mechanism saved the Cavaillé-Colls from inextricable mechanical problems encountered during the construction.

800px Aristide Cavaill CollAristide rapidly takes the lead of the family business, and helped by his numerous relationships – artists, bankers, employees of the Ministère des Cultes (Ministry of Cults or Religious Affairs) and his own genius, he will not stop for half a century to construct organs, develop his manufacture, latterly installed 19 avenue du Maine in Paris, and spread his art, mainly in France, but also in Europe and worldwide. He notably wins several high distinctions during different Expositions Universelles in Paris. Last but not least, he patents several inventions, related to organbuilding (as the pneumatic lever) or to other things as the improvement of the circular saw mechanism.

Among the most famous instruments of the 699 opus numbers stand those of Saint-Sulpice (1862, 102 stops, 5 manuals), of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (1868, 86 stops, 5 manuals), of the Saint-Ouen Abbey-church in Rouen (1890, 64 stops, 4 manuals) and of Nancy’s Cathedral (1861, 65 stops, 4 manuals), his biggest work in France outside of Paris.

signature CC"I believe that the organ of Nancy, restored and perfected as we plan, will be one of the most beautiful instruments in Europe" (extract form a letter dated November 27, 1857)

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll retires from business at the honorable age of 87 years by selling his company to one of his former employees, Charles Mutin. His last work has been an organ built for the Nancy's Conservatoire, inaugurated on March 12th, 1898, that bears the 699 opus number.

Aristide Cavaillé-Coll dies on the 13th of October 1899, in Paris. He is buried in Paris in the Montparnasse cemetery. 


Correspondence of Cavaillé-Coll

regarding the construction of the great organ in the Nancy Cathedral (French)


Plaque CC 2.jpg