When I read about the death today of French organist, Marie-Claire Alain, I got a huge lump in my throat. You see, for the past three weeks, I have incessantly played her recordings of Bach’s Great Eighteen chorales over and over and over again. I have the CD in my car, and whenever I’m out driving, which is several times each day, I never tire of listening to her play.
In case you are not familiar with her, she was born August 10, 1926 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris, and was the youngest daughter in a family of distinguished musicians. Her father Albert Alain (1880-1971) was an organist and composer. Her sister, Odile, was a soprano and pianist who died at an early age in a mountain climbing accident. Her brothers, Jehan Alain (1911-1940) and Olivier Alain (1918-1994), were also organists and composers. Jehan is especially well-known for his Litanies (whom Jehan dedicated to his late sister, Odile) and Trois Danses.
She attended the Paris Conservatoire in 1944 and studied with Marcel Dupré (whom I studied with many years later) and recorded the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach three separate times. It’s been said that she is the most recorded organist in the world, with over 260 albums to her credit. She made her first tour of the US in 1961 and over the course of her career, played more than 2,000 recitals worldwide.
I’ll never forget the time that Marie-Claire Alain came to Honolulu with her husband, Jacques Gommier, and gave us a private recital on the Beckerath organ. I suggest that you read about it by clicking here. She complained that they had spent their entire time in Hawaii at the beach and she wasn’t in shape. But oh! what memorable music she created for us that morning. Have you ever experienced listening to someone play and time absolutely standing still? As I said in my previous post, she “played with her heart” and touched ours in the process. A “chicken-skin” moment!
Afterwards we all went out to lunch, and of course, I had them sign my guest book. Wow! that was over 32 years ago!
Perhaps it is fitting to reiterate the words Marie-Claire’s brother Jehan wrote in the dedication of Litanies: When in its extremity the Christian soul can find no new word to implore God’s mercy, it tirelessly repeats the same plea with vehement faith. The limits of reason are reached, and only faith can pursue its ascension.