Many people think that because I spent thirty-five years of my life playing the Beckerath organ at the Lutheran Church Honolulu, I only play Bach and baroque music. That can’t be farther from the truth — I learned on a big Casavant organ at the Hollywood First Methodist Church and can push pistons and manipulate the swell pedals as well as anyone else, as one does on a big Romantic organ. (That’s not to say that I don’t love the works of Bach — because I certainly do, but I am not limited to playing only his music.)
This Sunday, October 25th, I’ll be subbing for John Renke at St. Andrew’s Cathedral and will be playing Cortège et litanie and the Fugue in G minor (op. 7, no. 3b) by French virtuoso, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971). I was first introduced to the Cortège on January 23, 1965 when I was just fourteen years old (Oops, now you’ll know how old I am!) I know that is the exact date because that what my teacher, Dr. Norman Söreng Wright, wrote in my music which I still play from today. As a teacher now, I’m astounded that he assigned me this piece less than a year after I started organ lessons, as I would peg the difficulty level as “Definitely Difficult,” because of the double pedal and wide pedal arpeggios. I would never give it to one of my students after only a year of study! As you can guess, my poor music is practically in shreds, with registration notes written all over it, on all the various organs I’ve played. I think the term we organists apply to old French music manuscripts is “Toilet Paper!”
At age fourteen I had no idea what a “cortège” was — and so my organ teacher told me it was a funeral procession. According to Graham Steed, author of The Organ Works of Marcel Dupré, the piece was originally written for a small orchestra of eleven players. Dupré was later asked to transcribe it for organ. The Cortège begins quietly, as an elegy, and then the Litanie is an incessant chant in procession sounding from afar, growing ever closer and building to a grand crescendo. When I was assigned the piece, I had no idea that I would someday play it for “Le Maître” himself, Marcel Dupré, when I was seventeen. You see, three days after I graduated from Burbank High School, I took off for France, and spent a summer studying with Dupré at his house organ in Meudon, one of the suburbs of Paris. And, yes, the Cortège et litanie and the Prelude and Fugue in G minor (op. 7, no. 3) were two pieces I studied with Dupré. If you do the math right, I’ve been playing these pieces for over 50 years! (Egad!) You could say that they are a part of me.
In 2010, my husband and I traveled to France for a vacation, and it had been 42 years since I stepped into Dupré’s studio. Talk about a sense of déjà vu! We were extremely fortunate to be allowed into the studio since the home was bought by another family after Marcel and Jeanne Dupré died. Before leaving on our trip, I was in contact with the president of the Friends of Marcel Dupré, and even was given an appointment to see the instrument, but somehow there was a miscommunication with the home’s owners. But when we were finally allowed inside, you’ll never guess what I brought to play — yes, the Cortège et litanie!
Here is a YouTube video of Marcel Dupré playing this piece on the great organ at St Sulpice, where he was the organist.