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8.553632 - ALAIN, J.: Organ Works, Vol. 1 (Lebrun)
Jehan Alain (1911 -1940) Organ Works Vol. 1
Eric Lebmn on the Cavaille-Coll Organ of the Church of Saint-Antoine des Quinze- Vingts, Paris
Jehan Alain has been called the Grigny of the twentieth century. Fate granted very little time to an artist who died prematurely at the very beginning of the Second World War at the age of twenty-nine, but what richness there is, what maturity in a body of work that includes some 120 compositions written between 1929 and 1939.
Jehan Alain was not only an organ composer, as his vocal works, chamber music and piano compositions show, but it remains true that he dedicated to this instrument the most essential elements of his genius. This is not surprising when we remember the origins of the composer and the context in which he came to music.
Like Debussy, Alain was born at saint-Germain-en-Laye, on 3rd February 1911, into the family of the organist and composer Albert Alain. Equally enthusiastic as an organ-builder, Albert Alain had built in the family living-room an instrument that must have influenced the musical taste of his eldest son, as did the long hours he spent by the side of his father at the organ of the Church of saint-Germain or at the piano of his maternal grandmother, Alice Alberty, an excellent amateur musician who had once studied with a pupil of Chopin. Having quickly understood his son's inclination to music, Albert Alain provided him with the first foundation of the art, before making him take piano lessons with Auguste Pierson, organist of saint-Louis at Versailles.
Time confirmed Jehan Alain' s talents and soon took him to the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied harmony with Andre Bloch, fugue with Georges Caussade, composition with Roger-Ducasse and Paul Dukas and organ and improvisation with Marcel Dupre. The length of his course of study ,crowned in 1939 by the award of a first prize for organ and improvisation, can be explained by the various events that complicated his existence at this time, trouble with his health often associated with pneumonia contracted in 1933, military service in 1933 and 1934, the shock of the death of his sister Odile in 1937 and his marriage with Madeleine Payan in 1935. This last happy event made it necessary for him to give a great deal of time to his duties as organist at the Church of Saint-Nicolas de Maisons-Lafitte and at the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth synagogue in order to meet his household expenses.
His studies barely completed, Alain found himself at war as a soldier in the Eighth Motorised Armoured Division: " A troubled time, suspended over the unplumbed depths of democracy and of war. Luckily the smile of good old Bach, the tears of obstinate Beethoven, the sighs and cries of some others form a solid base onto which we hang on the dark ladder of circumstances" , he noted in his diary. The dullness of the phoney war was soon dispelled by the German offensive of May 1940. Jehan Alain took part in the struggle, displaying exceptional bravery and confidence, but neither faith nor music could help him. He was killed by enemy fire on 20th May 1940. "I see death below, from the height of this fair age" was the verse of Jean Cocteau that Alain had written several years before in his diary. It now took on a strangely premonitory character.
"Life leaped in him", said Bernard Gavory of Jehan Alain in the book he wrote about his dead friend, but he went on at once to add: "He is happy and sad, ascetic and sensual", thus underlining all that was contradictory about him. Jehan Alain's admiration for Jean Cocteau was in no way fortuitous. Persuaded that "irony, humour, these alone make life bearable", he concealed under a lively and light- hearted exterior a being with a very rich inner life, moved by great generosity of spirit.
In his busy life, Jehan Alain found it necessary to seek refuge, from time to time, in the family chalet at Argentieres in Haute-Savoie, to find again "the mountain that imbues us, commands us, purifies us", or at the Abbey of Valloire in the Somme, moments of recollection that doubtless helped to give full meaning to the words that he wrote on the last page of his diary: "I believe in Christ and in God".
"In our time we are tired of lofty discourse. The public is not so stupid. Do not insist on musical evidence. Avoid commonplaces. Be brier'. The desire for conciseness, for concentration of musical discourse always guided Alain in his creative work, where he wanted to introduce mobility , expression of the outpouring of life. "Doubtless one must distinguish between rhythmic and melodic pieces: here dances, there dreams" remarked Bernard Gavoty, "but meditation demands no less of life than activity: in this way an Adagio can be as rich as a Scherzo".
There was, too, expression of the outpouring of faith, witness one of the most perfect of jehan Alain's organ works, Litanies The words that he wrote as an epigraph on this work, completed in 1937, tell more clearly than any commentary of the spirit that inspired him "When the Christian soul no longer finds new words in its distress to implore the mercy of God, it repeats endlessly the same invocation with strong faith Reason has its limit Faith alone reaches on high" in the obsessive rhythm of this work is released, according to Alain, the irresistible gusting wind of prayer
Less ambitious, Petite piece of 1932, over which Alain took particular care, ;s beautifully constructed With its motif in parallel sixths, repeated four times, the introduction, Andante sans lenteur, leads to a Plus lent, in which the theme is stated over a flowing triplet accompaniment that continues while the introductory motif returns The work ends with a short canon.
Two years later came Le jardin suspendu, which Jehan Alain explained as "the artist's ideal, always pursued and elusive, a refuge that ;s inaccessible and inviolable" Here there is writing of admirable tenderness and delicacy, "all in delicate, veiled timbres", perhaps inspired by the serenity of the mountainous countryside.
Visiting the Colonial Exhibition of 1932 brought Jehan Alain contact with different forms of musical exoticism which were not without influence on his work North African folk-lore inspired his second Fantaisie, written in 1936 Two slow, dreaming sect;ons frame here the central Presto in music of remarkable fluency
On the other hand it would be difficult to imagine a more French colouring than that of the Variations sur un theme de Clement janequin (Variations on a theme of Clement janequin), which jehan Alain asks to be played "like the Preludes that Couperin spoke of with freshness and tenderly" The work is in fact based on an anonymous air of the sixteenth century, L 'espoir que j'ay d'acqu&ir vostre grace (The hope I have of obtaining your favour), a score of great purity and wonderful registration.
Deux danses ii Agni Yavishta (Two Dances to Agni Yavishta) brings a return to exoticism, the idea for which came to jehan Alain at the time of the Colonial Exhibition of 1932 and which he completed in 1934 The inspiration for these pieces lies in India and the god of fire, the first an Allegro with a lively theme, the second marked Pas vite molto rubato, where the colouring and feeling of atmosphere are particularly bewitching
Initially conceived for the piano, the two Preludes profanes (Profane Preludes) of 1933 were finally written for the organ Both marked Andante, these pieces have a mysterious atmosphere that the composer's words, under each piece, help us to understand" After this night, still another, and after this yet another" (First Prelude), and "They worked for a long time, without hope and without relaxing, then, little by little, they penetrated the great rhythm of life" (Second Prelude)
The Abbey of Valloires, as already noted, was a place of recollection for Jehan Alain Itwas there that he wrote inApril1934a work discovered after his death, the Choral pour une Elevation (Chorale for the Elevation), to which Albert Alain gave the title Choral cistercien (Cistertian Chorale), a short Adagio of twelve bars, serene and introspective
Those who knew Jehan Alain were all struck by his ability to withdraw in a moment from situations in which he found himself in order to think only of music This is the feeling offered by Climat (1934), the free and gentle reverie of which fascinates the hearer from the first notes
Gregorian chant was among Jehan Alain's principal sources of inspiration and something of the spirit of this chant is found in Monodie, written in 1938, a work of other-worldly purity and simplicity There is again reference to the past in Ballade en mode phrygien (Ballade in the Phrygian Mode) and the Choral phrygien (Phrygian Chorale), dated respectively 1930 and 1935 The first, which the composer writes "in tints of grey" offers a tripartite structure, with a chorale at its centre, using the vox humana Alain also makes use of this stop, among others, in the Choral phrygien, marked tris lie -sans lenteur (very smooth -without slowness), a meditation full of intensity but that rejects the "facile ecstasy" that he shunned
Completed in 1936, the Suite, Opus 48, won the composer, in the same year, the Grand Prix of the societe des Amis de l'Orgue (Society of Friends of the Organ) In the Introduction et variations, the first movement, the composer said that he had sought "delicate sonorities, gently intersecting, that give a transparent texture, flowing under the fingers, like a veil of silk" The second movement is in contrast, a Scherzo remarkable for its spontaneous and tense discourse The last movement is a chorale in which the composer saw "great masses, weighty ascending phrases, mingled with cries Abrupt shades, great shafts of sunlight and the wind, the wind" The movement ends the Suite powerfully and with majesty
(English version by Keith Anderson)
One of the last pupils of Gaston Litaize, Eric Lebrun studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where he won five first prizes, including the organ prize in the class of Michel Chapuis, as well as the prizes in harmony, counterpoint, fugue, orchestration, analysis and music history Laureate of the Chartres International Organ Competition of 1990, he was appointed, in the same year, organist of the Church of Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts, with its Cavaille-Coll instrument He is professor of organ at the Saint-Mur Region Conservatoire His career brought collaboration, in 1991, with Marie-Claire Alain in the complete organ works of Jehan Alain for the inauguration of the new Paris Conservatoire organ, and has taken him as a performer to recitals throughout Europe, with a number of recordings, including participation in works by Poulenc, Ropartz and Maurice Durufle
The Aristide Cavaille-Coll Organ of the Cburch of SaInt-AntoIne des Quinze-Vingts
In 1894 Baron de l'Espee, a very rich musical amateur, wanted to play the music of his favourite composer, Wagner, in his own house He therefore had built a private concert-hall on the Champs Elysees and ordered from the famous organ- builder Aristide Cavaille-Coll an instrument of 2800 pipes He did not stop there, but also ordered an enormous instrument for his chateau at Biarritz This second instrument is the one now in the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre In the list of organs built by Cavaille-Coll there is an organ for Baron de l'Espee on the lIe d'Oleron and another for a property at Belle lIe, as well as a fifth instrument near Antibes When the building of the Church of Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts, started in 1903, was nearing completion, it was suggested that an organ should be donated for the church A parishioner, an amateur organist, Comte Christian de Berthier de Sauvigny, bought (or was given as a present)jhe organ of Baron de YEspee's private concert hall and offered it to the parish. In 1909 the organ-builders Merklin rebuilt the instrument in the church, providing a new organ-case and a new console, without making any major change in the original organ, with 44 stops (of which 23 speaking stops, with two chests, corresponding to the choir and the solo), three manuals of 61 notes and a pedal-board. Since its installation the instrument has undergone several renovations, in 1956 by Pierre Cheron, in 1982 by Jacques Berberis and in 1993 by Yves Fossaert, who is now responsible for the maintenance of the instrument.
The organ-builder Yves Fossaert worked first under the direction of Gerard Guillemin in Provence and then with Jean-François Muno in Franche-Comte, before undertaking further training under the great Luxemburg organ-builder Georges Westenfelder. He has also been much indebted to Pierre Cheron and the organist Andre Isoir, whose pupil he was. Yves Fossaert established his organ-building business in Seine et Marne in 1989 and has already provided some ten new instruments, notably for the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatoire, the Collegiale de Corbeil-Essonne, Perros-Guirec, Fleury lesAubrais, as well as carrying out important restorations that include the organ of saint-Germain des Pres in Paris and the Clicquot organ of the Chapel of the Chateau de Fontainebleau.
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