The Carnival of the Animals on the organ

The Carnival of the Animals on the organ

The Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique: a gigantic instrument!

The OSM is proud to possess a large organ intended for orchestral use. Purchase of that organ was made possible by Mrs. Jacqueline Desmarais, who assumed the total cost. It bears the name of “Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique” in tribute to the founder and first general manager of the OSM, who served from 1939 to 1970.

This magnificent four-keyboard instrument has 83 stops, 109 registers, 116 ranks and 6,489 pipes made of lead, wood and tin. It is also equipped with two consoles, one of them mechanical and attached to the base of the instrument, while the other one is electric and can be moved around. The organist can then use the latter on the stage to activate the organ keyboards situated high up in the Maison symphonique.

The organ: a wind instrument?

The organ is classified as part of the wind-instrument family because the sound is produced by air driven through the different-length pipes. To play it, the organist has a console made up of keyboards (otherwise known as manuals), a pedalboard and stop controls. Each keyboard makes it possible to control a different section of the instrument, while the stop controls serve to choose the various tones produced by the pipes. Added to that, the organist also plays with his feet on the pedalboard, which generally consists of thirty or so notes!

Short glossary:

Register: Sliding piece of wood opening or closing the passage of air in a pipe.
Stops: Ensemble of pipes producing the same timbre, or tone color.
Keyboards and pedalboard: The keyboards consist of keys that make it possible to activate the mechanism of the organ. The instrument also has a keyboard played with the feet and which is known as a pedalboard.
Transcription: Adaptation of a piece of music intended for other voices or instruments than the ones for which it was written.

Did you know?

Certain composers, like Johann Sebastian Bach, used motifs, or patterns, that associate letters with notes. Thus, the name BACH can have four corresponding notes: B-flat, A, C and B-natural. The work by the composer Pierre Cholley that you’ll be hearing takes up Bach’s idea but is based on the motif DSCH, representing the notes D, E-flat, C and B, a nod in the direction of the composer Dimitri Shostakovich (Dmitri Schostakowitsch in German).

Concert program

Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (excerpt)

Pierre Cholley, Trois pièces sur DSCH:

Saint-Saëns, The Carnival of the Animals (trans. for organ by Jean-Willy Kunz)

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), France

A virtuoso pianist and organist as well as a teacher and composer, Saint-Saëns was an ardent champion of the French music of his time.

Composed in 1886, The Carnival of the Animals was written for small orchestra and two pianos. Following its premiere, however, Saint-Saëns forbade any public performance until after his death, with the exception of the movement entitled “The Swan” which would become a staple of the cello repertoire. This suite consists of 14 pieces, which illustrate different animals. It contains a number of humorous allusions, as in the movement called “Pianists,” where we hear those “animals” practicing their scales! The version you’ll be listening during the concert is a transcription for organ done by Jean-Willy Kunz (OSM organist in residence).

Artists for the concert:

Jean-Willy Kunz,

Mathieu Pichette,


Martin Gougeon,
stage director

Much more than a church instrument!

For hundreds of years the organ was the only instrument accepted by the Church to accompany singing. Today the biggest concert halls around the world contain an organ because there is an important repertoire for the instrument. From Bach’s toccatas and fugues to contemporary works, organists are also admirable improvisers. Moreover, were you aware that the OSM once gave an organ concert in collaboration with an astronaut in space? Visit our online resources at in the “Education” section.

Did you know that…

… the world’s biggest maker of organs (they’re known as “organ builders”) is located in Québec? It is the house of Casavant Frères, founded in 1879. They are the maker of a number of prestigious organs, including the organ in Montréal’s Notre-Dame Basilica and the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique. The latter bears the opus number 3 900, meaning it was the 3 900th.



Let’s add some colour to the music! While you listen to an excerpt of your choice from The Carnaval of the Animals by Saint-Saëns, bring life to the image that illustrator Mika specially created for the occasion! During the concert, you will see how she interprets with her crayons the music played on the organ by Jean-Willy Kunz

For more information

Organ and Space: Gaze up to the Heavens

From our planet to outer space and back again, only music can easily cross these bridges! Witness the moment when the astronaut Thomas Pesquet communicates live from the International Space Station communicates during an organ recital in May 2017.

A Disney movie about classical music?

That’s right! In the movie Fantasia 2000, every animated segment matches a classical music piece from different composers such as Beethoven and Stravinsky. Notice how in this excerpt the pink flamingos are in synch with the music in the final movement of The Carnaval of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns.