Thunder and Lightning at Puycelsi

Puycelsi - hilltop fortress town
Puycelsi – hilltop fortress town

We have adopted Puycelsi in the Tarn, since we go there to sing at least once a year in a temporary choir that comes together for a weekend or less. This delightful – and apparently impregnable – hilltop village is one of the plus beaux villages de France. Not only does it boast some beautifully-restored medieval buildings but it also has terrific 360° views of the Forêt de Grésigne and the vallée de la Vère.

Eglise Saint-Corneille
Eglise Saint-Corneille

L’Eglise Saint-Corneille is one of the village’s pearls. Built in the 14th-15th centuries, it resembles a fortress from the outside – and probably was. But go inside and you are regaled with the most amazing wall paintings. Alas, time and weather have done their worst and the damage is only too evident.

Paintings in the church
Paintings in the church
Water damage in the church
Water damage in the church
More water damage
More water damage

The concerts in aid of the church restoration fund have been an annual feature for nearly a decade and take place in September. Last year, an April ‘interim’ concert was introduced and was judged a success. I couldn’t take part, unfortunately, owing to another commitment that weekend. This year it was repeated and I could participate.

The September concerts normally involve a choir of about 70 singers. The April ones involve 40 or so, mainly because a number of people live down here only in the summer (not just Brits, also French).

April 2015 concert

Carved figures above the church door
Carved figures above the church door

Although the whole choir comes together only for the weekend, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes. Our conductor, Mark Opstad, chooses challenging works and imposes high standards. On Sunday, Schubert’s Mass was not technically that hard, but it was high for us sopranos. We also sang Mozart’s ‘Ave Verum’, a popular choral piece, and a stirring Haydn piece entitled ‘Insanae et vanae curae’.

In addition, there were solo pieces and a virtuoso Bach piece for organ, played with great aplomb by composer, choir master and organist Nicholas O’Neill. He comes over from the UK every year to accompany us and I really don’t know what we would do without him. He plays our entry notes without being asked and has an almost telepathic complicity with Mark.

Less than clement weather

The thunder and lightning? September is normally a warm, stable month. April isn’t. A radiantly sunny morning last Sunday was followed by a thunder storm and torrential rain all evening. Hats off to the audience who turned out in such weather. At least we didn’t have a power cut. Nick would have had to play the mouth organ had that been the case.

We hope that this event raised yet more money for the restoration fund. It is certainly sorely needed. It’s also a great example of different nationalities working together for a greater cause.

Restoration in progress
Restoration in progress

You might also like:

A Birthday to Remember: Mozart at Puycelsi

Unconquered Citadel: Puycelsi

Music at Puycelsi

Concert at Puycelsi 2014

Copyright © 2015 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Sounds like something very pleasant to look forward to every year, and the acoustics are probably great. We went to a concert in St. Malo at St. Vincent Cathedral and it was something I’ll never forget. What a sense of peace and reverence. I wonder if those carved figures above the door are for the same purpose as the “eavesdroppers” in Hampton Court’s great hall are – to give a sense that one is being observed.


    • We love our annual (and now twice yearly) concerts at Puycelsi. I’d be interested to know the function of the figures above the door at Puycelsi. They look rather profane and not religious at all. I’ll have to try to find out.

      Liked by 1 person

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