Had he lived a longer life, Léon Boëllmann would likely be recognized today as one of the great Romantic French organist-composers, in a line that included Gigout, Franck, Widor, and Vierne. As it is, he is remembered mainly for his highly characterful Suite Gothique for organ, particularly the suite's brilliant but only moderately difficult Toccata.
In 1871, shortly after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War, the very young
Boëllmann left the contested region of Alsace for Paris, where he studied at the Ecole Niedermeyer with Gustave Lefèvre and Eugène Gigout. He quickly became Gigout's protégé, and took many school prizes. Soon after he graduated in 1881 he began working at the church of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, where before long he was named principal organist. In 1885 he married Gigout's niece and went to live with his former teacher, also becoming an instructor of organ and improvisation at Gigout's own recently founded school.
Boëllmann soon became highly regarded in Paris as a teacher, organist, improviser, and critic. He also composed some 68 chamber, orchestral, and other works in addition to a collection of 100 contrapuntal organ pieces published under the title Heures mystiques. For a while, his Symphonic Variations for cello and orchestra enjoyed international success, but today Boëllmann is known exclusively for his often modal organ music, especially the Suite Gothique. Read less