“L’Harmonium de LEMMENS et de GUILMANT” = GUILMANT: 9 short works; Fourth Sonata Op. 61; LEMMENS: Invocation; Nocturne; Berceuse; Reverie; Walpurgis Night – Joris Verdin, Mustel harmoniums – Gallo CD-1328 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

“L’Harmonium Francais” – BIZET: 3 pieces; BERLIOZ: Serenade agreste a la Madone; ROSSINI: Prelude religieux; LEFEBURE-WELY: Six Versets in Major and Minor; BOELLMANN: Three Offertories; GUILMANT: Scherzo; Prayer & berceuse; MOUQUET: Suite Symphonique in A-flat Major; MUSTEL: Scenes et Airs de Ballets Op. 24 – Jordis Verdin, Debain & Mustel harmoniums – Ricercar RIC 123111 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The reed organ or pump organ was widely used in Europe and America during the 19th century and early 20th. Several million were made in the U.S., for example. It’s big attraction was that it was the first keyboard instrument  for the home in history which allowed players to vary the sound of a held note. Several well-known composers wrote works especially for the harmonium, as well as some otherwise unknowns. They were popular in small churches where pipe organs were too expensive or too large. They were also lighter and easier to transport than a piano or even a regal organ. Most had a suction bellows operated by two foot pedals, which of course obviated the possibility of foot pedal for bass notes like an organ. While the most basic had no stops at all, fancier versions had a dozen or more and even double keyboards with couplers like a pipe organ. The coming of the Hammond electric organ did in the harmonium craze. The harmonium was also used in Appalachian folk music and a very small version of it, with a hand-operated bellows, is still frequently used in East Indian music.

The music that most composers created for the harmonium differed from their works for the pipe organ, having a lighter and less liturgical character. Although Guilmant wrote works of both a secular and liturgical nature, his works for the first more exploited the possibilities of the instrument. The nine salon pieces here constitute the composer’s entire output for the harmonium. His commercial instinct drove him to concentrate more on the creation of liturgical works, and he arranged some of his harmonium pieces for the pipe organ, of which the Fourth Sonata here is one example.

Lemmens, along with Guilmant, was considered one of the virtuosi of the harmonium. He was especially close to the maker Victor Mustel, and gained a great reputation for performing on Mustel instruments and being involved in their development. He was singularly acclaimed in England, where he often performed. His four little salon pieces are here followed by the ostinato-heavy and programmatic Walpurgis Night piece, which must have wowed the audiences at the time with its varied registrations and tone colors. This CD is actually Volume 3 of a series 4 by Verdin titled Reference Harmonium.


The first harmoniums in France (the instrument had been invented in 1780) were of a highly Romantic nature, with rich timbre and distinct differences in sound between the various stops. Later Mustel developed an ability for the player to vary the upper and lower dynamics individually, and a Prolongement mechanism allows the player to sustain sounds. Mustel even made some models which were combined with his keyboard invention the celesta. But most had a limited range of four octaves or less.

Bizet was strongly influenced by his orchestral writing in the works he wrote for the harmonium, especially in the area of tone colors. The nearly seven-minute Prelude by Rossini is a transcription of an excerpt from his Petite Messe Solennelle. Lefébure-Wely was consider the leading composer for the harmonium, with Guilmant the No. 2. The two works on this disc by the latter are the same as on the Gallo CD. Guilmant also wrote works combining the harmonium with other instruments. The last composer represented here—Alphonse Mustel—was the grandson of Victor Mustel and was probably the last virtuoso of the instrument, who concertized with it around the world. His four little pieces were written especially for the Mustel Organ-Celesta and show his fondness for exoticism and sentimentality.

—John Sunier