Early years. Paul Marie Joseph Benoit's first music lessons were on the piano around the age of seven with his mother as his teacher. As a youngster his first compositions were for piano, cello and violin, as his brothers were studying these instruments. Dom Paul, in part was self-taught. He was a chorister in the cathedral schola. As a boy in the village of Nancy, Dom Paul studied first with a local organist, then later continued with Mlle. Hess, daughter of the cathedral organist.
Life at the Abbey. Dom Paul Benoit took the vows of Benedictine life following the First World War and was ordained to the priesthood in 1925. Dom Paul is the person on the left in the adjacent picture. The "DOM" in Fr. Benoit 's name is the traditional title which for centuries has been given to Benedictine monks after their profession, coming from the Latin word "Dominus" meaning "master". This is not "master" taken to mean "Lord"; rather, it is in the context found in many cultures where those who master a craft or aspire to spiritual enlightenment are addressed as "master" by their students. The abbot of the community gave Dom Paul permission to study with the organist of the Cathedral of Versailles, M. Pierson. It was during this time that Benoit studied the works of Bach and became most fascinated with the organ works of Vierne. Benoit became the organist for the abbey in 1933. His knowledge of counterpoint was self-taught from his study of Bach's organ compositions. It was also at this time that Dom Paul began to take seriously his work at composition - primarily as a solution to the abbey's lack of available organ scores. The publication of his work was initially the result of encouragement from individuals who heard the organ improvisations which Dom Paul would perform for Mass on feast days. The abbey's organ which Benoit wrote for was a three manual Cavaille-Coll, dedicated in 1907 by Alexander Guilmant, at the Paris Exhibition. See the page Cavaillé-Coll Organ at the Abbey also part of this website specifically describing the organ. Ironically, much of Paul Benoit's actual compositional work was apparently done in a single room cottage on abbey grounds.
Compositional style. The influence of Gregorian chant and modality in Dom Paul's compositions are immediately obvious. In an interview with Paul W. Hagan ("Homage to Dom Paul Benoit"; by Paul W. Hagan, Music the AGO/RCCO Magazine; February 1977, page 38), Dom Paul Benoit attributes his inspiration to the influences of Bach (contrapuntal themes), Vierne (chromaticism), Debussy (free rhythmic structure), and Ravel (chromatids). A note of sincere (if belated) thanks must be extended to both Paul Hagan and Music the AGO/RCCO Magazine (now "The American Organist") for seeking out Dom Paul before his death and publishing the interview. The interview was given when Dom Paul was 83, at which time Dom Paul felt he was too old to compose anymore. Dom Paul's languages were French and German. Paul Hagan refers to Dom Paul charmingly as a "kind and gentle monk", whose later years were focused on monitoring government meteorological instruments which were located on the abbey's lands. The adjacent picture of Dom Paul was taken near the end of his life.
Photographs of Dom Paul from the archives of the the Abbaye St. Maurice
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