DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 7 (Mary Preston) (Naxos: 8.554211)
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Organ Works, Volume 11
Marcel Dupre was born into a musical family in Rouen in 1886. His fatherwas an organist who had been a pupil of Guilmant and taught his son from thetime the boy was eleven. Dupre was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire atsixteen, and among his teachers was Widor, whose assistant he became at thegreat Paris church of Saint-Sulpice four years later. Having won the covetedGrand Prix de Rome in 1914, he began his rise to fame with internationalrecital tours, in which he performed, in Paris and New York, Bach's completeorgan works from memory, a remarkable feat which had been his ambition since hewas a child. His American debut concluded with an improvised four-movementorgan symphony, described at the time as 'a musical miracle'. In 1925 he boughta house in the Parisian suburb of Meudon, where he had a house organ installedwhich had belonged to Guilmant. Pupils from all over the world were soon toflock here. A year later he was appointed professor of organ at the ParisConservatoire, where his pupils included both Jehan and Marie-Claire Alain,Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais and Olivier Messiaen. In 1934 he succeeded Widor asorganist 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 famousedition of Bach's organ works, as well as textbooks including the well-known Coursd'Improvisation. In the succeeding years until his death in 1971 hereceived many honours and awards, and composed works that now appear on recitalprogrammes and in recordings all over the world. On the morning of the very dayof his death, at home in Meudon, he played his two final Masses atSaint-Sulpice.
The present recordingincludes two works written in memory of members of the composer's family, and anumber of pieces for church services. Entree, Meditation, Sortie, Op.
62, composed in 1961, comes towards the end of his activities. Since he andmost French organists made up the greater part of their music on the spur ofthe moment, one might see these pieces, as one theory has it for organ musicwritten down during the Baroque period, as models to be imitated whenimprovising.
The Six chorals, fromOp. 28, are extremely short, and were intended as exercises for near-beginnersat the organ in preparation for similar pieces by Bach. Pieces of such brevityfind an ideal medium in recordings; the level of craftsmanship is as fine as inmore advanced works by this composer. Other chorals from this set may beheard in the fourth volume of the present series (Naxos 8.553919).
Psaume XVIII (Po?¿me symphonique), Op. 47 waspublished in 1950 in memory of the composer's mother, Alice Chauvi?¿re-Dupre.
The beginning of 1950 saw the publication of a number of important works basedon religious themes; it was also the year of Dupre's first audience with thePope and the two-?¡hundredth anniversary of the death of Bach. The mood of PsalmXVIII is one of confidence in God and of triumph in adversity, and it isjust possible that Dupre might have had at the back of his mind the OrganSonata of the romantic Julius Reubke, based on the more vengeful PsalmXCIV.
Many French works harkback to old livres d'orgue by composers such as members of the Couperinfamily, Daquin and de Grigny. Such books, particularly those consisting ofmusic for the Mass, would certainly contain an ?ëlevation, music whichaccompanies the most sacred moment at which the consecrated bread and winewould be raised in order to be seen by the entire congregation. The threepieces that form Trois elevations, Op. 32, provide a collection of musicfor liturgical use. They may be performed as a set, but can each standindependently.
The composer does notstate explicitly what he intends to recall in ?ëvocation, Op. 37, but onedoes 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 containspossibly the finest instrument of the great organ builder Cavaille-Coll. Themusic appears to convey many elements of the musical background of Marcel'schildhood, the lessons with the great organist-composers Guilmant and Widor, aswell as the majesty of the church building itself. Such memories would havebeen doubly poignant in 1941, the year of composition, with the menace of thewar. One perhaps should view Dupre as an Impressionist, seeking, like Debussy,to suggest images and emotions, rather than dictate them. Certainly theopening, in its arch form, beginning and ending quietly with a fortissimo inbetween, may summon a variety of images to the listener's mind. The slow,tender and agonized middle movement plays with rich textures and exoticharmonies, continually varying the opening theme and its ostinatoaccompaniment. If the first two movements might have been conceived, as itwere, in a dream, the last is nightmarish. It is one of Dupre's finesttoccata-style movements, with characteristic hammering chords and other (moretraditional) glittering technical devices. The mighty chords at the end couldsymbolize the vision in Psalm XVIII of the triumph of good over evil.