Kristiaan Seynhave
French Organ Symphonies

Sunday June 19 at 3pm

Princeton University Chapel
Princeton, NJ 08544

tickets:  $25 | $35 | $10 students

General admission seating
Approximate End Time: 4:15pm


César Franck
Grande Pièce Symphonique

Andante serioso – Allegro non troppo



Charles-Marie Widor
Symphonie n° 5

Allegro vivace
Allegro cantabile
Andantino quasi allegretto

Orchestral Sound, Romantic Temperament

It was the Industrial Age. The pipe organ, the most complex mechanical device in existence, needed to be updated. French organ-builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll was the right man for the job. He applied innovative engineering and new technology to every aspect of organ design, producing instruments with warm timbres, a wide range of colors, and huge dynamic range.

Cavaillé-Coll’s instruments were perfectly suited to the Romantic style of 19th-century French composers. Two of the greatest, César Franck and Charles-Marie Widor, quickly took advantage of their expressive potential.

Franck’s 25-minute-long Grand Pièce Symphonique, written 1860-62, set the pattern for the French orchestral style of organ composition for decades to come. One critic has remarked that “its drifting, languid expository style and the richness of his chromatic harmony transformed ceremonial brilliance into something more personal.”

Widor’s 35-minute Symphonie n° 5 (he wrote ten in all), is a worthy successor. Its uplifting opening movement, meditative inner sections, and majestic final Toccata (often played at weddings) make it a classic of the genre.

Both composers were noted organists. They knew how to extract maximum effect from their mighty instrument, but they did not agree on the best approach to playing it. Though Franck was famous for his improvisations, he generally improvised around simpler contemporary pieces rather than German and French classics.

Widor, by contrast, took a more systematic approach. In fact, when he took over Franck’s Paris Conservatoire class in 1890 after the older composer’s death, his first words to the students were “and now we’ll learn to play the organ.” He insisted that effective improvisation had to built on technical excellence and a deep knowledge of Bach.

The Grand Pièce Symphonique and the Symphonie n° 5 reflect their composers’ contrasting temperaments. In this recital the Belgian virtuoso Kristiaan Seynhave will exploit the capabilities of one of America’s greatest orchestral instruments, the Mander organ in the Princeton University Chapel, to do full justice to the surpassing beauty and overwhelming impact of these monuments of the French school of symphonic organ music.

About Kristiaan Seynhave

“…[the music] approaches breakneck speed at times, but is brilliantly marshalled by Seynhave, whose virtuosity is clearly transcendental.” – BBC Music Magazine, September 2013

Kristiaan Seynhave studied at the Conservatory of Maastricht with Kamiel d’Hooghe and at the Conservatoire National de Paris with Odile Pierre. He completed his education with master classes under the expert guidance of Flor Peeters, Albert De Klerck, Michel Chapuis and André Isoir. For 10 years he was organist-titular of the National Basilica in Koekelberg-Brussels, the fifth largest church in the world.

Today he is much in demand as a solo performer at international music festivals (Brussels, London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Kiev, Edinburgh, Bonn,…). He has performed the complete organ works of J.S. Bach, C. Franck and F. Liszt many times, and has made several acclaimed recordings. He comes to Princeton as part of an American tour that also sees him play at Trinity Church and King’s Chapel in Boston, and at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.


See Kristiaan Seynhave play “Orage” by Jean Langlais. For best quality click on “vimeo” at bottom of screen.”

“Orage” Jean Langlais (Kristiaan Seynhave – organ) from kristiaan seynhave on Vimeo.