DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 8 (Stefan Engels) (Naxos: 8.553920)
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Works for Organ, Vol.
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 at theage of sixteen, and among his teachers was Widor, whose assistant he became atthe great Paris church of Saint-Sulpice four years later. Having won thecoveted Grand Prix de Rome in 1914, he began his rise to fame withinternational recital tours, in which he performed, in Paris and New York,Bach's complete organ works from memory, a remarkable feat which had been hisambition since he was a child. His American debut concluded with an improvisedfour-movement organ symphony, described at the time as "a musicalmiracle".
In 1925 Dupre brought a house in the Parisian suburb of Meudon, where hehad installed a house organ which had belonged to Guilmant. Pupils from allover the world were soon to flock here. A year later he was appointed professorof organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included both Jehan andMarie-Claire Alain, Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais, and Olivier Messiaen. In 1934he succeeded Widor as organist of Saint-Sulpice, where he remained for the restof his life, improvising as has always been the custom in France, for the Massand Office, unfailingly matching the music to the occasion. He also published afamous edition of Bach's organ works, as well as textbooks including thewell-known Cours d'Improvisation. In the succeeding years until hisdeath in 1971 he received many honours and awards, and composed works that nowappear on recital programmes and in recordings all over the world. On themorning of the very day of his death, at home in Meudon, he played his two lastMasses at Saint-Sulpice.
Dupre's attempted to separate music connected with his concert careerfrom that associated with the Church, but the Variations sur un vieux No?½l andthe Symphonie Passion bring his religious convictions magnificently intothe concert hall.
Variations sur un vieux No?½l, Op. 20, dating from 1922, is based on themelody, No?½l Nouvelet. Among the many outstanding features of this workis the sheer variety of colours, inspired by Dupre's experience of organs heplayed on tour in England and America. The variations contain techniques fromsimple question-and-answer in the first one, to music suggesting scuddingclouds in the second, to canons in the third, sixth and eighth. Moods vary fromthe mocking chromatic chords in the fourth to the demented Viennese waltz (asDame Gillian Weir once described it) of the ninth. The last variation beginswith a fugue, introducing the theme in three different note-values (initiallyquavers, then minims, and finally crotchets) and concludes with a thrillingcarillon.
The three Preludes and Fugues Op. 36 (1938) reflect theircounterparts of Op. 7. The Prelude of the first, in E minor,concentrates our attention on harmony and texture by eschewing the power ofrhythm, employing even note values (rapid demisemiquavers in the manualsaccompanying a steady tread of crotchets in the pedals.) The Fugue (likeits counterpart) is played at a low dynamic level throughout. The tendency herealso is towards an even flow of duplets, with triplets added alongside half-waythrough.
Prelude and Fugue >No. 2 in A flat begins in a mood of (at firstsuppressed) agitation, with melodies embroidered amid rapidly surging andswirling chords. The fury bursts forth momentarily, but subsides onto a barefifth at the end. The first theme of the Fugue represents the kind ofchallenge 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 somedevelopment, combines with the first in a fanfare-like peroration of immensegrandeur.
Prelude and Fugue in C, Op. 36 No. 3, begins with swaying, pulsatingchords, 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 theinception of Symphonie-Passion, Op. 23, is famous. It arose from animprovisation 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. Hefound himself in a state of exaltation, and combined these themes into afour-movement work. Back in his hotel he sketched some of the ideas, which by1924 became the famous printed composition. The staccato chords of the firstmovement (similar to those found in Prokoviev's piano music) portray the world"awaiting the Saviour". The second movement, with its distinctlyoriental feel has Adeste fideles ('O come, all ye faithful') as itsfoundation, picturing the Virgin watching over her child at night. The march toCalvary agony of the Crucifixion is vividly portrayed in the third movement;the watchers sorrowfully chant the Stabat mater towards the close. Thefinale contains a massive toccata based on the Adoro te theme, but notbefore pianissimo music has suggested a "Spenserian conception ofthe 'Harrowing of Hell'."