Saint-Denis was the centre of innovation at two moments in history:
(1) in 1140, Abbot Suger started the work of enlarging the basilica, the result being often cited as the first example of Gothic Architecture.
(2) in 1841 a new organ was inaugurated, built by a young organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899), on one hand still standing in the tradition of the organs built in the past centuries by the Thierrys and the Cliquots, on the other hand adding several revolutionary and outstanding innovations which would form the basis for the French symphonic organs which would dominate the second half of the 19th century.

The Church

On the remains of a Gallo-Roman cemetery, a first church was built in 475 by St. Genevieve and a second, greater, one in the 7th century by Dagobert I. In the 12th century the Abbot Suger rebuilt the abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features that were drawn from a number of other places. He created thus the first truly Gothic building.

The organ

In 1836, architect François Debret designed a new organ case replacing an old organ which did not survive the revolution. A competition was held to select the builer and several well-known organ builders (Erard, Abbey, Dallery and Callinet) submitted a design for the new organ. A few days before the competition was closed, a young organ builder from southern France arrived in Paris: Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (aged 24 years). He was informed about the competition, went directly to St. Denis, worked for two days continuously on a plan and submitted a superior and innovative design. He won the competition, which can be seen as the birth of the french symphonic organ tradition.
The organ was inaugurated in 1841, with several innovations:
- the swell box operated by a spring-loaded (later balanced) pedal
- new stops imitating orchestral instruments (basson, hautbois, clarinet) and the harmonic flute
- windchests divided into sections with different wind pressures for fonds and reeds and introducing a pedal to add or cancel all the reed stops of a manual
- use of many 8' stops (fonds)
the Barker pneumatic lever machine to couple all the manuals together and play without too much effort.
All these innovations allowed a seamless crescendo from pianissimo to fortissimo, which was not possible before.
On the other hand, this organ was still very 'classic', with a full 32' grand plein jeu, the second manual for the Great Organ and a classical 'French' pedal with a 'ravallement' from F and a small swell.
In 1901, Charles Mutin carried out restoration works and the number of stops was increased to 69, the pedal was extended to C-c' (the c#' till f' are mute and speak only when coupled).
In 1983-1987 the organ was restorated by Danion/Dargassies (mechanical part) and Boisseau/Cattiaux (harmony and voicing). The stops added by Mutin were removed.

Main builder History Latest restauration
1841 - Aristide Cavaillé-Coll 1857 - Aristide Cavaillé-Colll
1901 - Charles Mutin
1987 - Danion-Dargassies & Boisseau-Cattiaux
2000 - Charles Sarelot

III/70 - Mechanical traction (Barker machine for manual II)

Titulaire: Pierre Pincemaille
Famous organists in the past: Henri Heurtel.

Concerts: Each first sunday of the month, 5h PM
Masses with organ: sunday 10 AM

Specific links: -




Pierre Pincemaille: The art of improvisation

An other example of the superb art of improvisaiton of Piere Pincemaille:
Symphonie improvisée at the organ of Ste Clotilde (audition 12.10.2013):
final en forme de variations

Pierre Pincemaille: The art of composing

Prologue et Noël varié, composed by Pierre Pincemaille in 2007, played by Anton Doornhein on the organ of St Joseph des Nations, Paris IX