Marie-Claire Alain, 1926-2013

Marie Claire Alain, 1926-2013

Marie Claire Alain, 1926-2013

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!

Marie-Claire signed our guestbook.

Marie-Claire signed our guestbook.

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.

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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One Response to Marie-Claire Alain, 1926-2013

  1. Raymond Quick says:

    Katherine,
    Thank you so much for your lovely and thoughful tribute to Marie-Claire. I first met her at Colorado State University where I was a member of Robert Cavarr’s group of organ students. Thanks to him we had the benefit of practicing daily on the 1968 Casavant 3 manual mechanical action organ that attracted so many internationally famous organists. Marie-Claire had come to present recitals and Master Classes. It was an inspirational time. She was accompanied by her husband, daughter and son. Because the Cavarras were so loving and generous with their hospitality, we students were able to spend time with Marie-Claire in class and during dinners and barbecues at the Cavarra’s home. My most memorable personal moment was when after I had completed playing the Tierce en Taille from F. Couperin’s Mass of the Convents she turned to the gathered members of the audience and complemented me on my sensitive playing of the piece. Later she signed my book and I treasure it. She loved the Casavant and the Cavarras so she returned several more times to play and teach. During one of those visits she was presented with an honorary Doctor of Music degree. I am sad that she is gone but thankful that she was part of my musical formation and treated me with such kindness.

    P.S. On a different note, I have served numerous Lutheran parishes over the years along with my wife as choral director. We now live in Brussels where we both are on assignment for the U.S. government. Best wishes to you and your husband, Ray Quick

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