Louis Vierne: Piano Quintet in C Minor

On 11 November 1917, Jacques Vierne died in one of the Battles of Champagne. He was 17. Six months and a day earlier, he had left for boot camp, his father’s reluctant signature having given his only remaining son permission to enlist.

His father, Louis Vierne, the nearly blind organist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, was in Switzerland at the time, treating the glaucoma that would in time render him completely blind. Having had congenital cataracts from birth, Vierne was familiar with darkness. Before switching to braille, he would compose with his face pressed close to the enlarged staves, writing with large notes, helped by René, his brother, who would die six months after his son. René wrote in his final letter to Louis, “Oh, when will we be back together round the same table or in the lamplight at the same piano?”

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