25 Nov 2014
Stepping out in a light rain, we headed over to Notre Dame to purchase tickets for a concert tonight: Mille Regretz, and then continued on our towards Musee d’Orsay. Following La Seine we passed antique stores, print shops and art supplies stores. We made plans to stop and visit some of these places on the way back.
“Oh boy.” Said David as we rounded the corner to the entrance court of Musee d’Orsay, and saw the queue. But it seemed to be moving fast enough so we joined the crowd. I looked around me; there were people of all different nationalities, mainly Europeans. Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Netherlands, and couple of British and Americans. I wondered idly how I was identifying people. At first it was by dress sense and hair styles followed by recognising the different languages.
Soon enough we made it inside the gallery. It’s a converted train station which must have been a challenging conversion considering an art gallery’s reliance on wall space and a train station’s lack of them. The result is an unusual interior layout with a series of inserted boxes creating rooms and a mezzanine level. The large central atrium is the sculpture gallery.
Annoyingly there is a new ban on photography. I understand a ban on flash photography, but how else are we to remember some of the amazing pieces we’ve seen? I suppose with the volume of visitors the gallery attracts, if everyone photographed every painting, it would detract from the viewing experience.
We headed directly to the impressive impressionist gallery. It’s more spread out now and much easier to navigate amongst the crowd. I felt like I could spend more time with the pieces that interested me most.
Monet’s mastery of colour, particularly in the wintry snowy field picture, had us mesmerised. Hardly any white paint is used, but the pinks, purples and blue-greys make it feel luminously white. You can feel the crisp air temperature, like a memory.
As we entered the next room, suddenly we were face to face with the huge Dance at la Moulion de la Gallette by Renoir. It’s almost life size, it sings and the colours glow. No re-production does this masterpiece justice.
As photography was forbidden these images of my favorite pieces, are from the Musee d’Orsay website:
After a tea break at the cafe we headed down a level, to a gallery dedicated to Van Gogh. There were a number of his famous pieces here but I fell in love with a particular vase of flowers, with an almost pointillism approach. It was quite different to his flower arrangement paintings we saw in Chicago and Washington DC.
“This one. I’d like to own this one” I leaned in and whispered to David. “It would look great in our place” I realised I’m in love. Could I attempt to copy it, I wondered. No way. A print then.
Cezanne was in the next room with his distinctive style that looks to me like a precursor to sixties stylisation.
The art nouveau gallery contains a room I remember from our first visit to the gallery back in 2001. It was no less impressive on this visit. I flagrantly ignored the no-photography rules to take a quick picture of a fully carved interior salon.
We stopped for lunch in a brassiere in the local neighbourhood, rather than in the Musee restaurant. It was quiet and cosy and they seated us at the same table as we’d been years before. We ordered a carafe of Bordeaux and a hearty meal of roast chicken for me and steak for him. This place is always generous with their sauce! Delicious!
That night was the concert at Notre Dame and we were looking forward to experiencing both the architecture and the composition as it was intended. In retrospect, it was the perfect match for an interior designer and a composer.
The concert was exclusively choral music without accompaniment. They performed pieces composed during the same period as the cathedral was built: mid 1100’s to mid 1200’s. The pieces were polyphonic (more than one vocal part) and plain chant (singing in unison).
The acoustics were really interesting. Reverberation roamed around the coffers for at least four seconds, creating a beautiful moment at the end of each piece. We both really enjoyed this experience.
“I loved how they used the space and played with the acoustics” David later told me. They sang in front of us, behind us and during a particularly beautiful plain chant, the children’s choir slowly strolled around and then through the audience. Their voices sang a single melody in perfect unison; the effect was clear, pure and ethereal.
“I can see why polyphony caused such an outrage, when it was first heard” David told me later as we walked home. “The long reverb in the cathedral renders the different parts almost indistinguishable.” I’ve always enjoyed our impromptu music history lessons. He went on to explain that they thought plain chant was closer to God because of its purity. I completely understood why after hearing it in the cathedral.
I’ve never seen a professional children’s choir before. (Traditionally it was a boys choir, but girls are included today). These kids are tiny and incredible; so serious. Their angelic voices were mixed with a small men’s choir and the effect was magical. And the kids were so professional.
All too soon the concert was over. We sat for a moment absorbing the atmosphere in the nearly empty church, and then walked to the front to look at the huge arches and admire the effect of the lighting design.
On our way out David bought a few CD’s from the choir we’d just heard and the Notre Dame music program as a souvenir. It was a short stroll home through a quiet city that sparkled in with Christmas lights. We’ve been seduced by the romance of Paris.