Also born in Boulogne-sur-Mer, organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant may have played an unwitting part in Hanon’s life. Charles Timbrell writes that Hanon was “forced to resign” his position as organist at the Église Saint-Joseph in 1853 “due to unjustified absence.”(2)
In addition, Andrew Thomson states that 16-year-old Guilmant was appointed organist at Église Saint-Joseph in 1853, the very same year in which Hanon “resigned” from the same church.(3)
Is it possible that Hanon was released in order to make a position available for the local prodigy? Despite this incident, later accounts indicate that Hanon was still a respected organist in Boulogne-sur-Mer nearly 15 years after this incident.
Philippe Rougier further links Guilmant and Hanon by writing, “Except for playing the organ occasionally, [Hanon] took little part in local music life, which was dominated by Guilmant.”(4)
This statement, however, must be qualified. Alexandre Guilmant was nearly 20 years Hanon’s junior and by 1860 had left Boulogne-sur-Mer to study and travel abroad, never again permanently living in the city. While contemporary accounts of musical events there sometimes mention Guilmant, the names of other performers appear far more often.
Of the hundreds of references in contemporary journals to the thriving musical scene in Boulogne-sur-Mer printed by the late 19th century, none includes a reference to Hanon—either as composer or performer.
This, despite the fact that by 1879, he had been honored by the Pope, recognized at two World Exhibitions and was the author of a small but impressive body of publications. Why Hanon was ignored in this fashion is a mystery. Perhaps he was content to concentrate on his own musical and religious life and not become involved with events in the city. Perhaps being neither a virtuoso performer nor a composer trained at the Paris Conservatory he was shunned by local musicians.
Perhaps after the negative critical reception of his organ method he no longer cared about public opinion. Only future research will shed light on this intriguing question.
(2) Charles Timbrell, “Who Was Hanon?”
Piano and Keyboard (May/June 1995), 31.
(3) Andrew Thomson, “Alexandre Guilmant,”
The New Grove Dictionary, vol. 10, 539.
(4) Philippe Rougier, “Hanon,”
The New Grove Dictionary, vol. 10, 822.
This article is reproduced with permission from the authors.