About this Recording
8.553921 - DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 10

Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Works for Organ, Vol. 10

Marcel Dupré was born into a musical family in Rouen in 1886. His father was an organist who had been a pupil of Guilmant, who became Marcel's teacher from the time the boy was eleven Dupré was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at sixteen, and among his teachers was Widor, whose assistant he became at the great church of St Sulpice in Paris four years later. Having won the coveted Grand Prix de Rome in 1914, Dupré 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 stunning 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 he purchased a house in the Parisian suburb of Meudon, where he had a house organ installed 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 Jehan and Marie-Claire Alain, Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais, and Olivier Messiaen. He succeeded Widor as organist of St Sulpice in 1934, 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 final Masses at St Sulpice.

Dupré's Scherzo, Op. 16 is a diabolical perpetuum mobile composed around 1918, and is said by his friend Robert Delestre to be typical of the postludes that he improvised following services in that period. It reveals his extraordinary imaginative powers served by a flawless technique.

The Sixteen Chorales (Le tombeau de Titelouze), Op. 38, dating from 1942, are conceived on several levels. Firstly, they are described by the composer as pieces 'for beginners' (though they rise to a level of considerable dexterity) and are carefully graded according to difficulty, with Dupré's own fingering and pedalling added. Secondly, they celebrate one of the great founders of French organ composition and playing, who lived and worked in Dupré's home city, Rouen. Jehan Titelouze (c. 1563-1633) became a Canon at Rouen Cathedral, and wrote two series of pieces on Latin hymns. Dupré incorporates eight of those that his predecessor had set 300 years earlier. How thrilled Titelouze would have been to have realised how masterfully the tradition he had begun was still continued.

Annonciation (2 Méditations pour argue), Op. 56, refers, of course, to the Angel Gabriel's Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. The first Méditation, in E major, is profoundly meditative, alternating solo passages with eerie pianissimo chords, symbolizing, perhaps, the mysteriousness of Gabriel's message. The second, in G major, is in much the same vein, the summation of a lifetime's playing, prayer and thought.

The six Chorales from Op. 28, are extremely short, and were intended as even simpler exercises than the Sixteen Chorales. Here, the intention is to prepare the young organist for similar pieces by Bach. Pieces of such brevity find an ideal medium in recordings; the level of craftsmanship is as fine as in more advanced works by this composer. (Other Chorales from this set may be heard in Volumes 4, 5 and 9.)

The approach to composition by most French musicians is to write first one piece, or section, then another and then another; unlike those of the Austro-German tradition, they do not concern themselves with joining one theme to another by sleight of hand. Trois Hymnes, Op. 58, completed between 1962 and 1963, well illustrate this manner of writing. The sections tend to be cumulative in dynamics and tempo. In Matins the lonely call of the clarinet stop alternating with a choir of flutes, is succeeded by a quicker, watery series of sounds; quiet chords follow, and then a louder and more energetic section arises. Another series of quiet chords introduce a toccata for the full organ. Vespers is much more shadowy throughout. (The largely sombre nature of these pieces relates to the fact that they were written in memory of Andrée Leblond, the granddaughter of the composer's revered teacher Guilmant.) Lauds begins with the precipitate chords for which Dupré had grown famous, but, after a short time, the music quietness down, and then the dancing rhythms of a closing toccata begin.

Roger Rayner

Michael Keeley
Michael Keeley teaches the organ at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and at Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington. He has performed in the United States and Europe as a recitalist and soloist with orchestras, as well as in the rôle of accompanist and continuo player. Michael Keeley is also active as a church musician, serving several churches in Wisconsin and Illinois. A native of Milwaukee, he began organ studies with his father, a local musician and conductor. Michael Keeley holds degrees from a number of universities and was awarded a Fulbright Study Grant to Austria in 1980 for further studies in organ and church music at the Musikhochschule in Vienna.

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