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ClassicsOnline Home » DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 11
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, 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 (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 Dupré 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. 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.
Le Chemin de la Croix (‘The Way of the Cross’) is an ideal vehicle for Dupré's art, combining his genius for organ playing, his harmonic and contrapuntal gifts and, not least, his religious devotion. The individual stations of the Cross form a musical stained-glass window, juxtaposing autonomous sections of music in the way so many French composers love. Each station is depicted in a pictorial manner whose history extends from Couperin's harpsichord pieces through to Messiaen's great suites for organ.
It is perhaps dangerous to seek absolutely precise images in Dupré, but Pilate's grim (and cowardly – notice how indefinitely the music begins) sentence followed by the shrill mocking yells of the mob may be imagined in Jésus est condamné à mort (‘Jesus is condemned to death’). On his way to Calvary, Jesus falls three times; in each of the relevant pieces, one can picture his agonized steps, and the weight of the Cross bearing down on his shoulders. How subtly Dupré indicates that this is more than just the toppling over of one exhausted human being! The brutality of events is interrupted by the tender meeting of Jesus with Mary; the resigned mood of the music seems to suggest that both had long realized that this moment would one day arrive.
Legend has it that a compassionate woman, St. Veronica, stepped out of the crowd and wiped the sweat and blood (caused by the crown of thorns) from Jesus's face (Une femme pieuse essuie la face de Jésus). This act of charity is expressed in terms first of pain, but concludes in the warmth of the final major chord.
The professional mourners are at hand (Jésus console les filles d'Israël qui le suivent (‘Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem’)); but Jesus gently tells them, 'Don't weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children'; one hears his voice (perhaps) on the Oboe stop. Jésus tombe à terre pour la troisième fois (‘Jesus falls the third time’) reminds us of the viciousness of events; and the diabolical dancing succeeded by an awful stillness in Jésus est dépouillé de ses vêtements (‘Jesus is stripped of his clothes’) reveals our shame and disgrace.
Jésus meurt sur la Croix (‘Jesus dies on the Cross’) expresses, with the voix humaine stop penetrating through soft, flutey sounds, the fading away of life, and the head dropping onto the shoulder. Suddenly, we perceive the throbbing of the earthquake and the rending of the Temple veil which occurred at this moment. In number XIII, Jésus est détaché de la Croix et remis à sa Mère (‘The body of Jesus is taken from the cross and laid in Mary's bosom’) we have the musical equivalent of the sculptural form known as the Pietà. Finally, Jesus's body is laid in the tomb, with its promise of Resurrection, which the music expresses in an inexorable crescendo. The concluding atmosphere is other-worldly, and removes us from the preceding evil (which always makes such a noise!) and towards the silence of eternal Hope.
The Seven Chorales from Op. 28 are extremely short, finding, incidentally, an ideal medium in recording. The intention is to prepare the young organist for similar pieces by Bach (such as The Little Organ Book). These quiet little gems each express a subtly different mood; notice how (to mention but the first three) Dupré expresses the profound, meditative aspect of Mon âme glorifie le Seigneur (‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’), in contrast to the joy of Dans la paix et dans la joie (‘In peace and joy’), and the tenderness of O innocent agneau de Dieu (‘O innocent Lamb of God’).
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DUPRE: Works for Organ, Vol. 11