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ClassicsOnline Home » DURUFLE: Organ Music (Complete)
Maurice Duruflé was a highly self-critical composer whose musical language can be viewed as a synthesis of the impressionist tradition of Debussy and Ravel and the modal, Gregorian-inspired style of Fauré. Although his best-known work is the Requiem, his distinctive and powerful organ music continues the French tradition of organ-playing and composition. The Prélude sur l’Introït de l’Épiphanie demonstrates Duruflé’s mastery in capturing the shape and colour of plainsong. With its perfect architectural balance and proportions, the Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain written in memory of Duruflé’s colleague Jehan Alain, killed in action in 1940, has become one of Duruflé ’s most popular organ works.
By David Denton
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
Complete Organ Music
Maurice Duruflé was born on 11 January 1902 in the French town of Louviers. From 1910 to 1918 he attended Rouen Cathedral Choir school, where he studied the piano and organ with Jules Haelling. In 1919 he went to Paris to study the organ with Charles Tournemire and Louis Vierne. A year later he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he gained Premiers Prix in the classes of Eugène Gigout (organ), Jean Gallon (harmony), Abel Estyle (accompaniment), Georges Caussade (fugue) and Paul Dukas (composition).
In 1930 Duruflé was appointed organist at the church of St Etienne-du-Mont in Paris, a position shared with his wife from 1953, and he was professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire from 1943 to 1969. He toured widely as a soloist and gave first performances of Vierne's Sixth Organ Symphony (1935) and Poulenc's Organ Concerto (1938). In the 1950s he transcribed improvisations by Vierne and Tournemire from earlier recordings, and in later years he was the recipient of numerous awards. Sadly, his career was halted in May 1975 when he and his wife were involved in a serious car accident. Although both recovered, Duruflé rarely performed in public after the accident. He died on 16 June 1986.
Duruflé was a highly self-critical composer whose musical language can be viewed as a synthesis of two schools: the impressionist tradition of Debussy and Ravel and the modal, Gregorian-inspired style of Gabriel Fauré.
The Duruflés made several recordings on the organ at Soissons Cathedral, whose clock chimes provide the theme for the Fugue sur le thème du Carillon des Heures de la Cathédrale de Soissons, Op. 12 (1962). Dedicated to the organist of Soissons Cathedral, Canon Henri Doyen, this short fugue builds to a toccata-like conclusion while the eight-note theme is treated using a variety of ingenious contrapuntal devices.
Duruflé won the composition prize of the Amis de l'Orgue for his Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le thème du Veni Creator, Op. 4 (1930). The Prélude derives its thematic material from two phrases of the Veni Creator plainsong: the first is treated in the manner of a fileuse using delicate flute stops and the second, in longer notes, is played on soft reed stops in the pedal and later in the left hand. After a short link-passage, a more lyrical Adagio emerges, comprising three sections; the outer two, which present the plainsong in minor keys on the lush Voix céleste, frame a Tournemire-like interlude that is characterized by the darker timbre of the Voix humaine. The movement concludes with an intense and overwhelming crescendo and climax. This gives way to a sublime harmonization of the Veni Creator plainsong, followed by four variations: the first with the theme in the pedal, the second for manuals only, the third with the theme in canon and a toccata-like fourth variation, again with the theme in canon.
The Prélude sur l'Introït de l'Épiphanie, Op. 13 (1961), was composed for Orgue et Liturgie, a series of organ volumes containing liturgical music. Duruflé's mastery in capturing the shape and colour of plainsong is evident in this short setting of the introit Ecce advenit dominator Dominus.
Dedicated to Charles Tournemire, the delicate Scherzo, Op. 2 (1926), is a rondo in which three statements of the lively main theme are set off against contrasting couplets. The work closes with a calmer coda, characterized by a swaying figure heard earlier in the introduction and first interlude. Duruflé later reworked the Scherzo in his Andante and Scherzo for orchestra.
The Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain, Op. 7 (1942), was written in homage to Duruflé's colleague Jehan Alain, who died in 1940 at the beginning of the Second World War. The Prélude comprises two themes; the first is derived from the name "Alain" by a continuation of the musical alphabet past H (German B) in octave rows so that "Alain" gives the notes A-D-A-A-F, and the second is a theme taken from Alain's most famous organ work, Litanies. The "Alain" theme also provides material for the lyrical first subject in the double Fugue, which is followed by a busier second subject before building to a climax in a similar fashion to the Soissons fugue. It is perhaps the sense of perfect balance and proportion in the architecture of the Prélude et Fugue that accounts for its status as one of Duruflé's most popular organ pieces.
The Méditation, Op. post (1964), was unknown until it was published in 2002. Composed in rondo form, Duruflé later used the shapely main theme of the Méditation in the Agnus Dei of his Messe Cum Jubilo. A freer second theme, with accompanying chords provides interludes before the piece ends with a peaceful coda in C major.
Hommage à Jean Gallon (1953) is taken from 64 devoirs d'harmonie, a collection of exercises in homage to Jean Gallon by his former students. On hearing this beautiful harmonization, it is not difficult to imagine how Duruflé made his mark as professor of harmony at the Paris Conservatoire.
Duruflé's Suite, Op. 5 (1933), is dedicated to Paul Dukas. The Prélude in E flat minor is dominated by a feeling of tension created by the interval of the augmented fourth between the bass and a sustained dominant chord. Successive statements of the main theme gradually accumulate the power of the organ until a resounding C major first inversion chord is reached, finally resolving the tension that has been present from the outset. After a diminuendo, a recitative follows that develops the first notes of the theme, and the piece concludes with a return to the sombre mood of the opening.
The more intimate Sicilienne is composed in rondo-form with three statements of the delicate main theme and two episodes. The movement is characterised by the use of impressionist textures and harmonies, and the interval of the augmented fourth, that features in the second episode.
The Ravellian Toccata calls to mind a wild Spanish dance and comprises two principal themes; the first, played in the pedal, is strident and heroic, while the gentler second theme is reminiscent of the second episode in the Sicilienne. It is well known that Duruflé was dissatisfied with the Toccata, and, as with many of his works, made revisions to the score which here included writing a completely new ending.
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DURUFLE: Organ Music (Complete)