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A History of Orgues Létourneau

Fernand Létourneau, the voicer

The story of Orgues Létourneau begins in February 1965 when Fernand Létourneau accepted a position as an apprentice voicer at Casavant Frères. After progressing through a number of positions, Mr. Létourneau was appointed Casavant’s head voicer and tonal finisher in 1974. Four years later, Mr. Létourneau applied for and received a grant from the Canadian Council of the Arts to study historic pipe organs in Europe where he examined instruments built by Arp Schnitger, Gottfried Silbermann, and François-Henri Clicquot among others.

After returning to Canada, Mr. Létourneau founded Orgues Létourneau in January of 1979 in Ste-Rosalie, Québec. The company’s first instrument was a six-stop practice organ with mechanical key and stop actions for the Conservatoire de musique in Hull, Québec. Contracts followed over the next decade for new instruments in Australia and Canada with a particular highlight from this period being the design and installation of Opus 10, a tracker organ for Christ Church Vienna in Austria. It was also during this period that the company moved to its current workshops in St-Hyacinthe, Québec.

Opus 27 was the first Létourneau instrument heard in the United States and this organ was displayed at the 1990 American Guild of Organists’ National Convention in Boston. The interest in this 13-stop organ resulted in contracts for new pipe organs in Michigan, Virginia and Texas. The following decade was one of remarkable growth for the company and included the completion of mechanical action organs for St. Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1991 and the Damon Wells Chapel at Pembroke College, Oxford, England in 1995. In 1998, the company completed its Opus 58 for St. Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, Australia which incorporated more than 30 stops and several windchests from the Cathedral’s previous 1866 William Hill instrument.

The Létourneau team with Opus 43 in 1995.

By the turn of the 21st century, more than 60 new Létourneau organs had been built and the year 2000 saw pipe organs completed for St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Sydney, Australia and the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at H. M. Tower of London in England. One year later, the company completed two new pipe organs for the majestic sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Two instruments destined for concert halls were commissioned shortly thereafter: a mechanical action organ was installed in Legacy Hall at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts in Columbus, Georgia and a 122-rank concert organ was completed at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music in Edmonton, Alberta.

The company exported its third instrument to England in 2005, a three-manual tracker organ for the Chapel of Selwyn College, Cambridge University and the largest Létourneau organ to date with 144 ranks was finished the following year at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Divine, Houston, Texas. The company furnished an orgue de choeur in 2008 as the first phase of a multi-year project with the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California with the second phase of the project completed two years later. Opus 118 boasts a total of 90 ranks spread over seven divisions; the organ’s unique visual design was developed collaboratively with the Cathedral’s architect, Craig Hartman. Other significant instruments from this period include Opus 107 for Christ Church United Methodist in Louisville, Kentucky and Opus 96 for Christ Episcopal Church in Bradenton, Florida.

In August of 2012, Opus 125 was dedicated at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee with concert organist Wilma Jensen at the console. Opus 122 was inaugurated shortly thereafter at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Midland, Michigan with David Baskeyfield performing two concerts featuring improvised silent film accompaniments. In 2013, Opus 124 at Braddock Street United Methodist Church in Winchester, Virginia was completed with the installation of the Choir division and an 8’ Festival Trumpet. Later that year, Opus 126 was installed and voiced in St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa, Ontario.

From left to right, David Dini (headmaster),
Fernand Létourneau, David Heller (concert organist) and Andrew Forrest at St. Mark’s School of Texas.

In 2014, Létourneau installed organs in the chapel of St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas and at the Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village, New York City. St. Mark’s School is renowned as one of the finest boy’s schools in the United States and boasts an excellent choral programme for all ages. Located in the rear gallery of the school chapel, Opus 127 offers 61 ranks over three manuals and pedals and was designed to excel as an accompanying instrument. Opus 128 at St. Joseph’s Church likewise resides in the rear gallery of this historic Manhattan building; the 39-rank organ is played from the attached console via mechanical key action.

Restorations and reconstructions of existing pipe organs make up an important part of our work: Létourneau recently completed a comprehensive restoration of the sanctuary organ – Casavant’s Opus 1049 from 1924 – at the Basilica-Cathedral of Notre Dame in Québec City, Québec. The organ’s two-manual console was thoroughly rebuilt as part of the project and two new stops were added. The organ was dedicated in a mass officiated by the Archbishop of Québec on Easter Sunday of 2015 with titular organist Marc d’Anjou at the console.

Létourneau restored Æolian-Skinner’s Opus 1257 in Byrnes Auditorium at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2009 and with 65 ranks, this organ remains a stellar example of G. Donald Harrison’s signature style. Other recent organ restoration projects include the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey and First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. Closer to home, the organs at Église St-Pierre of Shawinigan; the Anglican Parish of St. Andrew and St. Mark’s in Dorval; and St. James United Church in Montréal are recent restoration projects carried out by Létourneau.