Nicolas de Grigny (1672 – 1703) was a French organist
and composer. He died young and left behind a single
collection of organ music, and an Ouverture for
harpsichord. Despite his short life, Nicolas de Grigny
was the finest French organist-composer of his period.
He was something of a French Bach, in that he showed
little interest in innovation but brought the
established forms of organ music to their greatest
point of refinement. Indeed, Bach seems to have admired
Grigny's compositions, having copied them all out for
his personal study.
Grigny came from a long line of musicians; among them,
his grandfather, father, and an uncle were organists in
Reims. Nicolas de Grigny seems to have gotten his
professional start in Paris; records show that he was
organist at the abbey church of St. Denis from 1693 to
1695. Perhaps he got this job through a family
connection; his brother was a sub-prior there. He also
may have studied with Lebègue during this time. By 1696
he had moved with his Parisian bride back to Reims,
where he became organist at the cathedral. He served
there for the rest of his life, which lasted little
past his thirty-first birthday.
Grigny's published works include five hymns, the four
sections of the Ordinary of the Mass, and four other
items. Each of the Mass sections begins with a movement
quoting plainsong in one voice, accompanied by Grigny's
own animated harmonizations. There follows in each case
a fugal movement employing a fragment of the plainsong
already quoted, and then other small movements usually
not related to the chant material. His use of
counterpoint and even simple harmonizing voices is
quite rich, as are his melodic embellishments, and he
exploits the organ's various registers at every
opportunity, giving the pedals a particular workout.
Grigny groomed no successors, so his music both defines
its era, and brings it to a remarkable close.
Although originally composed for Pipe Organ, I created
this interpretation of the Kyrie from Trio en Dialogue
for Double-Reed Quartet (2 Oboes & 2 Bassoons).