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Nicolas de Grigny (Composer)

Born: baptized September 8, 1672 - Reims, France
Died: November 30, 1703 - Reims, France

Nicolas de Grigny was a French organist and composer, and a leading member of the French Baroque school of organist-composers. He died young and left behind a single collection of organ music Livre d'orgue (1699), which together with the work of François Couperin, represents the pinnacle of French organ tradition.


Nicolas de Grigny was born in 1672 in Reims in the parish of Saint-Pierre-Le-Vieil. The exact date of his birth is unknown; he was baptized on 8 September. He was born into a family of musicians: his father, his grandfather, and his Uncle Robert were organists at the Reims Cathedral, the Basilica of St. Pierre and St. Hilaire, respectiely. Few details about his life are known, nothing at all about his formative years. Between 1693 and 1695 he served as organist of the abbey church of Saint Denis, in Paris (where his brother André de Grigny was sub-prior). It was also during that period that de Grigny studied with Nicolas Lebègue, who was by then one of the most famous French keyboard composers. In 1695 de Grigny married Marie-Magdeleine de France, daughter of a Parisian merchant. Apparently he returned to his hometown soon afterwards: the record of the birth of his first son indicates that de Grigny was already in Reims in 1696. The couple went on to produce six more children.

By late 1697 de Grigny was appointed titular organist of Notre-Dame de Reims (the exact date of the appointment is not known), the city's famous cathedral in which French kings were crowned. In 1699 the composer published his Premier livre d'orgue [contenant une messe et les hymnes des principalles festes de l'année] in Paris. De Grigny died prematurely in 1703, aged 31, shortly after accepting a job offer from Saint Symphorien, a parish church in Reims. His Livre d'orgue was reissued in 1711 through the efforts of his widow. The collection became known abroad: it was copied in 1713 by J.S. Bach, and later by Johann Gottfried Walther.


Nicolas de Grigny's only surviving music is a large volume of organ works, Premier livre d'orgue (Paris, 1699; second edition 1711). The second edition was the only one known until 1949, when the earlier print was discovered - a single surviving copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France. The first modern edition, by Alexandre Guilmant, 1904, was based on the 1711 version.

Unlike many other French livres d'orgue of the time, de Grigny's publication contains no preface. The collection is in two parts: the first is a mass setting, the second comprises settings of five hymns for Lauds and Vespers: Veni Creator (5 versets), Pange lingua (3 versets), Verbum supernum (4 versets), Ave maris stella (4 versets) and A solis ortus (three versets). There are 42 pieces overall. The plan of the mass is as follows:
5 Kyrie versets,
9 Gloria versets,
an offertory,
2 Sanctus versets,
1 Benedictus verset,
an Elévation,
2 Agnus Dei versets,
a Communion, and
an Ita Missa Est verset.

Like most of his predecessors, de Grigny uses chant melodies from the Gregorian Mass IV, Cunctipotens Genitor Deus. However, he confines chant usage to first versets of each section: for example, the actual Kyrie chant only appears in the first Kyrie verset, Kyrie en taille à 5, etc. The hymns adopt a variety of structures, but invariably begin with a Plein Jeu verset followed by a fugue; the same can be said about every section of the mass. The collection also includes a Point d'orgue, a piece based on a long pedal point.

J.S. Bach Connection

As mentioned above, Nicolas de Grigny's only surviving music is his Livre d'orgue (1699), of which J.S. Bach made a complete copy about 1713. This has naturally led to a search for de Grigny's influence on J.S. Bach's own organ music, supported to some extent by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's citation of 'some good and old Frenchmen' among the composers whose works J.S. Bach had studied in his youth. Attention has focused on two works in particular. J.S. Bach's Fantasia (Pièce d'orgue) in G major BWV 572 has French tempo markings for the three sections in the main source (Très vitement-Gravement-Lentement); the central section certainly invites comparison with some of de Grigny's plein jeu movements, though on a vastly increased scale. Also probably indebted to French models is the C minor Fantasia BWV 562, a majestic essay in five-part counterpoint based on a subject which has been compared with a fugue labelled 'petit plein jeu' from the Gloria of de Grigny's organ mass.


Source: Wikipedia Website (based on Almonte Howell, François Sabatier. "Nicolas de Grigny", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed November 21, 2006) & Edward Higginbottom: "Nicolas Lebègue", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, accessed December 25, 2006); Malcom Boyd, editor: Oxford Composer Companion J.S. Bach (Oxford University Press, 1999, Article author: David Humphreys)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2008)

Works copied / performed by J.S. Bach

Premier Livre dÓrgue (1699) - copied / performed by J.S. Bach in Weimar c1709-12 (TLM) or 1713 (OCC)

Works in J.S. Bach's Library

From Orgelbuch I
Et in terra pax a 5
Recit de tierce en taille
Fugue a 5

Links to other Sites

Nicolas de Grigny (Wikipedia)
Nicolas de Grigny (Britannica Online Encyclopedia)
Nicolas de Grigny (
Grigny, Nicolas de: Biography (Sojurn)

HOASM: Nicolas de Grigny
Biographie à Biography and extended bibliography [French] Grigny: Hymns Includes partial discography and miscellaneous details about the composer


Willi Apel: The History of Keyboard Music to 1700. Translated by Hans Tischler (Indiana University Press, 1972). Originally published as Geschichte der Orgel- und Klaviermusik bis 1700 by Bärenreiter-Verlag, Kassel
Harry Halbreich: Liner notes to: Nicolas de Grigny - Premier livre d'orgue, Michel Chapuis (organ) (1976/1987, Auvidis-Astrée)
Alexander Silbiger: Keyboard Music Before 1700 (in: Routledge Studies in Musical Genres, 2004)
M.C. Alain: 'Reflexions sur le livre d'orgue de Nicholas de Grigny d'apres la copie de J. S. Bach', in D. Mackey, ed.: L'Orgue a notre epoque (Montreal, 1981), pp. 91-105
P. Williams: The Organ Works of J.S. Bach, iii (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 60-62, 97-102.

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