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JEAN GUILLOU – Biography

Jean Guillou expresses his creativity in multiple facets of his art.


As an interpreter, he has expanded considerably the technical limits of playing the organ. Also a pianist, he brought back to life the Sonata for piano by Julius Reubke, a pupil of Liszt’s who died at the young age of 24, leaving behind two chefs-d’œuvre: the piano sonata, and an organ sonata. Jean Guillou is the only musician to have performed and recorded both works together. In 2002 he inaugurated the Borgato pedal–piano at the Teatro Olimpico de Vicenza and at the Opéra Royal de Versailles.

As a composer, beginning at a young age, he has developed a singular musical world of a strongly individualistic dramatic eloquence. He uncovered a new nature of the organ’s palette, and has sought to show it in confrontation with the piano (Colloques 2, 4, 5, 7) or with other instruments such as the violin, cello, flute, clarinet, percussion, marimba and the human voice, as well as in the 7 concertos for organ and orchestra.  His univers is expressed also in 3 symphonies, 2 piano concertos, vocal music, chamber music (especially the trio for 3 cellos and the quartet for oboe and strings) and works for the piano. His music is published by Schott Musik.

As an improvisationist, Jean Guillou has given a new push to an authentically creative improvisation, liberated from the schemas of the past.

Inventor of a new way of thinking about the organ, he applied his innovative ideas to various organs, in the Alpe d’Huez, in the Naples Conservatoire, the Zürich Tonhalle, the Tenerife concert hall, and to the “Chant d’Oiseaux” in Brussels. His project for Tenerife of an organ divided into 8 cases and 12 sound ensembles gives the instrument a dramatic dimension, playable on a console of 4 keyboards, but also, with 8 additional keyboards, by 9 organists. This idea is at the origin of his work “La Révolte des Orgues”, to be premiered on May 12, 2007 in Landsberg. The ultimate development of his ideas leads to the “Variable Structure Organ”, described in his book “L’Orgue, Souvenir et Avenir” (The Organ, Remembrance and Future), in its third edition in France (Buchet-Chastel), with a second edition in Germany and a first edition in Italy. The book tells the history of the instrument, and develops his ideas about the complex nature of the organ, into which he wants to breathe a greater poetic richness.

As a writer, Jean Guillou has published many texts on music, as well as poems and literary texts. Many of his compositions use his own texts: “Alice au Pays de l’Orgue” for organ and a narrator, “Aube” for 12 voices and organ, “Poème de la Main” for soprano and organ, “Écho” for choir and instrumental ensemble.

Jean Guillou taught from 1970 to 2005 at the Meisterkursus in Zürich, along with Geza Anda, Nathan Milstein, Gregor Piatigorsky and Vladimir Spivakov, guiding more than 300 young musicians from all over the world.

Philips has reissued in 9 CD’s his recordings from the 1960’s and 70’s, and published 7 CD’s of his compositions for the organ, other instruments and voice, as well as the complete works of J.S. Bach, a CD on the Borgato double piano, and a Mozart CD. Other labels (Dorian, Festivo, Pierre Vérany, Carrara) complete his discography.
         In 2007 were two important creations of Jean Guillou last compositions : "La Révolte des Orgues", written for 9 organs and percussions, and the 7th Concerto for Organ and Orchestra, with the Orchestra "di Padova e del Veneto" conducted by Giuseppe Marotta, given in Padova and Milano.

A book of interviews by Jörg Abbing, enriched with numerous texts, was published in Germany (“Jean Guillou, Colloques”, Dr. J. Butz Musikverlag, 2006).

His work is the subject of several scholarly works, by Jean-Philippe Hodant (“Rhetoric and Dramaturgy in the Works of Jean Guillou”, in French), Thomas Dahl (on his concertos), Giampaulo di Rosa (on the art of the registration) and its structural role), as well as analytic works by Sylviane Falcinelli.



livre.BMP (930102 octets)

Jean Guillou

souvenir et avenir

Editions Buchet/Chastel

Cette 3e édition, revue et augmentée, révèle les idées de Jean Guillou sur la facture d'orgue et l'histoire captivante de cet instrument.

257 pages + annexes.