About this Recording
8.554211 - DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 7

Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Organ Works, Volume 11

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 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 he bought 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 Jéhan and Marie-Claire Alain, Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais and Olivier Messiaen. In 1934 he succeeded Widor as organist of Saint-Sulpice, a position he held 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 Saint-Sulpice.

The present recording includes two works written in memory of members of the composer’s family, and a number of pieces for church services. Entrée, Méditation, Sortie, Op. 62, composed in 1961, comes towards the end of his activities. Since he and most French organists made up the greater part of their music on the spur of the moment, one might see these pieces, as one theory has it for organ music written down during the Baroque period, as models to be imitated when improvising.

The Six chorals, from Op. 28, are extremely short, and were intended as exercises for near-beginners at the organ in preparation 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 chorals from this set may be heard in the fourth volume of the present series (Naxos 8.553919).

Psaume XVIII (Poème symphonique), Op. 47 was published in 1950 in memory of the composer's mother, Alice Chauvière-Dupré. The beginning of 1950 saw the publication of a number of important works based on religious themes; it was also the year of Dupré's first audience with the Pope and the two-­hundredth anniversary of the death of Bach. The mood of Psalm XVIII is one of confidence in God and of triumph in adversity, and it is just possible that Dupré might have had at the back of his mind the Organ Sonata of the romantic Julius Reubke, based on the more vengeful Psalm XCIV.

Many French works hark back to old livres d'orgue by composers such as members of the Couperin family, Daquin and de Grigny. Such books, particularly those consisting of music for the Mass, would certainly contain an Élévation, music which accompanies the most sacred moment at which the consecrated bread and wine would be raised in order to be seen by the entire congregation. The three pieces that form Trois élévations, Op. 32, provide a collection of music for liturgical use. They may be performed as a set, but can each stand independently.

The composer does not state explicitly what he intends to recall in Évocation, Op. 37, but one does not have to delve far. The work is dedicated to the memory of his father, Albert, who had been organist at Saint-Ouen, Rouen, a church that contains possibly the finest instrument of the great organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. The music appears to convey many elements of the musical background of Marcel's childhood, the lessons with the great organist-composers Guilmant and Widor, as well as the majesty of the church building itself. Such memories would have been doubly poignant in 1941, the year of composition, with the menace of the war. One perhaps should view Dupre as an Impressionist, seeking, like Debussy, to suggest images and emotions, rather than dictate them. Certainly the opening, in its arch form, beginning and ending quietly with a fortissimo in between, may summon a variety of images to the listener's mind. The slow, tender and agonized middle movement plays with rich textures and exotic harmonies, continually varying the opening theme and its ostinato accompaniment. If the first two movements might have been conceived, as it were, in a dream, the last is nightmarish. It is one of Dupré's finest toccata-style movements, with characteristic hammering chords and other (more traditional) glittering technical devices. The mighty chords at the end could symbolize the vision in Psalm XVIII of the triumph of good over evil.

Roger Raynor

Close the window