Art will make sure Notre Dame has an encore

Art saved Notre Dame once and it can save it again, Buxton International Festival’s Chief Executive Michael Williams said in advance of the UK premiere of an award-winning musical performance inspired by the Parisian cathedral which has been ravaged by fire.

South African organist Zorada Temmingh will use improvised organ music to add a new dimension to the 1923 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame which will be shown in the town’s parish church as part of the Festival in July.

Victor Hugo’s book, Notre Dame de Paris (1829-1831), was in part intended to spur the French authorities of the day to restore the cathedral to its former glory.

“Hugo’s art inspired the French to save Notre Dame then and it is now, thanks to the books, films and music which made its story an icon of French national life, that art will ensure it rises from the ashes,” said Michael.

Zorada’s work received the Kanna Award in South Africa for her boundary-breaking contribution to classical music. She creates an original leitmotiv for each character, developing and intertwining the themes as the they appear,  portraying the gripping emotion in the film.

“The Cathedral had fallen into disrepair at the time of writing, which Hugo wanted to point out,” said Zorada. “The enormous popularity of the book in France spurred the historical preservation movement and encouraged Gothic revival architecture.

“Ultimately it led to major renovations at Notre-Dame in the 19th Century. Much of the cathedral's modern appearance (before the fire) is a result of this renovation.”

Zorada remembered the first time she visited Notre Dame in 2005: “I had just walked in when the organ started playing. Soft, deep notes, with a richness of timbre that rooted me to the spot.

“I had never heard anything like it, and suddenly became aware of the fact that my ancestors hailed from France, and that I actually felt a sense of belonging there. Ever since then it has been my dream to play on the organ of the Notre Dame, to do Hunchback there. I might have to wait some time.”

The 1923 film also elevated Lon Chaney, who played the hunchback Quasimodo, into a major Hollywood star.

l Zorada Temmingh: Improvised Organ Recital accompaniment to the 1923 silent film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, July 7, St John’s Church, Buxton. For more details go to

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