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8.553920 - DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 8
English 

Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Works for Organ, Vol. 8

Marcel Dupré was born into a musical family in Rouen in 1886. His father was an organist who had been a pupil of Guilmant and taught his son from the time the boy was eleven. Dupré was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at the age of sixteen, and among his teachers was Widor, whose assistant he became at the great Paris church of Saint-Sulpice four years later. Having won the coveted Grand Prix de Rome in 1914, he began his rise to fame with international recital tours, in which he performed, in Paris and New York, Bach's complete organ works from memory, a remarkable feat which had been his ambition since he was a child. His American début concluded with an improvised four-movement organ symphony, described at the time as "a musical miracle".

In 1925 Dupré brought a house in the Parisian suburb of Meudon, where he had installed a house organ which had belonged to Guilmant. Pupils from all over the world were soon to flock here. A year later he was appointed professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included both Jéhan and Marie-Claire Alain, Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais, and Olivier Messiaen. In 1934 he succeeded Widor as organist of Saint-Sulpice, where he remained for the rest of his life, improvising as has always been the custom in France, for the Mass and Office, unfailingly matching the music to the occasion. He also published a famous edition of Bach's organ works, as well as textbooks including the well-known Cours d'Improvisation. In the succeeding years until his death in 1971 he received many honours and awards, and composed works that now appear on recital programmes and in recordings all over the world. On the morning of the very day of his death, at home in Meudon, he played his two last Masses at Saint-Sulpice.

Dupré's attempted to separate music connected with his concert career from that associated with the Church, but the Variations sur un vieux Noël and the Symphonie Passion bring his religious convictions magnificently into the concert hall.

Variations sur un vieux Noël, Op. 20, dating from 1922, is based on the melody, Noël Nouvelet. Among the many outstanding features of this work is the sheer variety of colours, inspired by Dupré's experience of organs he played on tour in England and America. The variations contain techniques from simple question-and-answer in the first one, to music suggesting scudding clouds in the second, to canons in the third, sixth and eighth. Moods vary from the mocking chromatic chords in the fourth to the demented Viennese waltz (as Dame Gillian Weir once described it) of the ninth. The last variation begins with a fugue, introducing the theme in three different note-values (initially quavers, then minims, and finally crotchets) and concludes with a thrilling carillon.

The three Preludes and Fugues Op. 36 (1938) reflect their counterparts of Op. 7. The Prelude of the first, in E minor, concentrates our attention on harmony and texture by eschewing the power of rhythm, employing even note values (rapid demisemiquavers in the manuals accompanying a steady tread of crotchets in the pedals.) The Fugue (like its counterpart) is played at a low dynamic level throughout. The tendency here also is towards an even flow of duplets, with triplets added alongside half-way through.

Prelude and Fugue >No. 2 in A flat begins in a mood of (at first suppressed) agitation, with melodies embroidered amid rapidly surging and swirling chords. The fury bursts forth momentarily, but subsides onto a bare fifth at the end. The first theme of the Fugue represents the kind of challenge that Bach so often set himself in its monotonous rhythm and strange, wide leaps. The start of a second theme is clearly etched, and, after some development, combines with the first in a fanfare-like peroration of immense grandeur.

Prelude and Fugue in C, Op. 36 No. 3, begins with swaying, pulsating chords, taking a dark, pessimistic view of this "simple" key. The Fugue, with its leaping subject is in fiery contrast to the Prelude.

The story of the inception of Symphonie-Passion, Op. 23, is famous. It arose from an improvisation that the composer performed at a recital in Philadelphia in 1921. He was submitted a number of themes, including the Gregorian melodies Christe, Redemptor omnium, Adeste fideles, Stabat mater and Adoro te. He found himself in a state of exaltation, and combined these themes into a four-movement work. Back in his hotel he sketched some of the ideas, which by 1924 became the famous printed composition. The staccato chords of the first movement (similar to those found in Prokoviev's piano music) portray the world "awaiting the Saviour". The second movement, with its distinctly oriental feel has Adeste fideles (‘O come, all ye faithful’) as its foundation, picturing the Virgin watching over her child at night. The march to Calvary agony of the Crucifixion is vividly portrayed in the third movement; the watchers sorrowfully chant the Stabat mater towards the close. The finale contains a massive toccata based on the Adoro te theme, but not before pianissimo music has suggested a "Spenserian conception of the 'Harrowing of Hell'."

Roger Rayner


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