Professor DuMouchel, Cathedral Organist

When we first learned of the old Albany character of Dr. DuMouchel, about all we knew about him was that he was the organist at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and favored a frock coat and top hat which gained him a comparison to Dr. Mary Walker. Well, Dr. DuMouchel was much more than his wardrobe.

From “Biographies of Celebrated Organists of America,” we learn that Leandre Arthur DuMouchel was born at Rigaud, near Montreal in 1841; his twin brother was christened Alphonse Edouard. His father Ignace, descended from a family from Rouen, was an English army lieutenant in the War of 1812, and later promoted to lieutenant colonel. His mother, Marie Antoinette Fournier DuMouchel, was descended from French Royalists in Lyons; her mother was said to have bought the first piano ever used in Montreal. Leandre studied piano and organ under an accomplished aunt, Esther Fournier, graduated from College Bourget in 1859 (another source says Rigaud College), and became a church organist in Brockville and Perth in Canada before moving to Carthage, NY in 1866 to ply his trade. For the Musical Association of Carthage, DuMouchel, along with his brother and Miss Emma Lajeunesse of Albany (later known as Madame Albani), held a concert of sacred music on Thanksgiving night, November 29, 1866.

“This was only a term of practice and probation for Dr. DuMouchel had higher musical aspirations than that of organist in a small town church.” From Carthage he went to Europe where he spent three years, 1869-72. He spent a good part of his time in Leipzig and Vienna and “visited many of the principal cathedrals of Europe to find the highest ideals of church music.” While in Europe, he studied piano, organ, and harmony and composition. Returning from Europe, he became the organist in St. Paul’s Church in Oswego, and spent three years there before becoming the organist of Albany’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (succeeding the remarkably named Haydn Wand) beginning April 24, 1876, and remaining there until 1919. “Biographies” wrote in 1908:

“There are four separate choirs and organs in this church one being the echo organ, the gift of Dr. DuMouchel, and all operated from a single set of manuals. It is unnecessary to say that the organist’s time is pretty fully occupied in the duties of this position, and his musical compositions. Among the latter may be mentioned: four masses, No. 3 being the one he composed for the consecration of Rt. Rev. T.M.A. Burke, and No. 4, composed for his thirtieth anniversary as organist and choirmaster at the Cathedral; two complete vespers; many offertories, organ and orchestra compositions, etc. … Dr. DuMouchel easily holds a leading place in the front ranks of American organists and musicians. He is entirely devoted to his art and most conscientious in all his work. He is unmarried and music [is] his master passion. In relation to his work and personality, a noted musical critic has said: ‘His unselfish devotion to the exacting duties of his position, his rare musical talent, which might be termed genius at times from the marvelous results it produces, his untiring industry and profound religious spirit have given an exceptionally attractive character to the music at the Cathedral. The touch of a master hand as felt in the magic tones of the organ, evoked by his intelligence and skill and makes a lasting effect on the mind of the hearer.”

The Canadian Encyclopedia reports that “His Grand Magnificat in C, and his motet ‘Ecce panis’ – both for mixed choir – were published by Ditson ca 1875.”

In 1885, the Albany Morning Express reported that Professor DuMouchel had decided to retire from active work. If he did retire, it was a busy retirement, as he was continually listed in the newspapers heading up musical programs at the Cathedral. In 1915, DuMouchel’s 40th anniversary with the cathedral was celebrated, with all music at the morning mass and vespers being of his composition. “’Come Down, Holy Spirit,’ a Pentecostal hymn written for the event, was the feature of the musical program. Among his other compositions given were the processional, ‘See That Paraclete Descending’; ‘Kyrie Eleison,’ ‘Gloria’ and the ‘Credo’ … during the forty years Dr. Dumouchel has rarely missed a service or rehearsal.” Not too much of a wonder, or at least he couldn’t blame his commute for keeping him from getting to church on time; in 1905, he was living at 183 Madison Avenue, just a block down from the Cathedral. At the end of his life, he lived at 93 Hudson.

Even in honoring him on that anniversary, it was said that “Little is known of him other than that he is one of the country’s leading musicians.” The Evening Journal also said that “Few of Prof. DuMouchel’s efforts have been transposed to paper, the eminent professor playing them from memory.”

As late as 1918, at age 77, he was still conducting musical programs. Sometime around then he fell and broke his left arm, “but even this did not stop him from playing every service at the Cathedral, using his right hand to do so.” He died January 10, 1919. Neither Leandre, Edouard (who died in 1914), nor a sister ever married.

When he died, the Albany Evening Journal headlined, “Du Mouchel Has Passed to the Great Beyond — Aged Composer Had Presided at Organ of Cathedral of Immaculate Conception for Nearly Half Century.” Having entered St. Peter’s Hospital on Dec. 2, 1918, “his constitution that had stood him well for so many years was shattered.” He wanted to leave the hospital in order to play at the Cathedral on the feast day of the church, which he had not missed for 46 years; doctors wouldn’t allow it but lied to him that he’d be able to leave in time to arrange the Christmas music, “but they knew that this would never be. The fact that he missed the Christmas service broke the old organist’s heart and he failed rapidly after that.”

“Professor DuMouchel, although odd and apparently hard to approach, was a delightful conversationalist once he got talking. To any young reporter who went to see him he always told how William Barnes, president and editor of the Evening Journal, called on him when he was a ‘cub’ reporter on the Journal. he was a great admirer of Mr. Barnes from that day for, to put it in his own words, ‘William was a great young man. He could see further ahead than any young man I ever knew. Many of the things he predicted for Albany in those days have since come true.’
“Professor DuMouchel also loved to talk about Madam Tessier, his blind soprano. It was on Christmas day in 1891 that Professor DuMouchel succeeded in getting Madame Tessier to sing at the cathedral. She was then 22 years old. Professor DuMouchel heard of her from friends in Montreal. She was then singing in a choir in Holyoke, Mass. The professor went to see her and offered her a position which she accepted …
“It is said that up to the time of the funeral of the late James C. Farrell, no parishioner of distinction had been wedded or buried from the Cathedral that Prof. DuMouchel did not play the wedding march or the requiem.”

One of the few things Van Olinda had to say about DuMouchel, other than that he “looked from a distance, quite like the late Dr. Mary Walker, the Civil War woman physician who wore men’s attire on the street through a special legislation from the Congress of the United States,” was that “when the professor was giving a piano lesson, he sat at the other end of the room, apparently indulging in a nap. But let the pupil strike one wrong note, and he was over at his, or her side, with his ruler, administering a sharp, effective rap on the knuckles of the harmonic offender.”

At least one of his works can be found on YouTube, performed by the choir of the Cathedral in which DuMouchel played and composed, which is kinda cool and most fitting.

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