The physical trials and tribulations to have beset the great composers have been many and varied, from Beethoven’s increasing deafness to the botched eye operations performed – remarkably by the same inept surgeon – on both Bach and Handel. On an emotional level, many musicians have wrestled with unrequited love, betrayal, or been tormented by a sexual secret. Spare a thought then for French composer and organ virtuoso Louis Vierne, who celebrates his 150th birthday on 8 October 2020, and whose life must rank as the most wretched and challenged of all.

  Louis Vierne with Bernard Gavoty, 1933

Louis Victor Jules Vierne was born on 8 October 1870 in Poitiers, famous for an English victory in the Hundred Years War but by the late 19th century a quietish garrison town in central France. Diagnosed at birth with childhood cataracts – he could see large objects, but today he would be categorised as “legally blind” – Vierne nevertheless showed an early talent for music, allegedly able to pick out the notes of a Schubert lullaby he’d learned by ear...

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