I was first introduced
to the music of Maurice Duruflé
at an organ recital in Glasgow. It was
1976 and the organist, whose name now
escapes me, finished off his recital
with the Toccata from the Suite
Op.5. I was suitably impressed.
As a young twenty year old I was even
more impressed with the beautiful young
lady whom I met at the recital. She
was from Sydney in Australia and was
on a kind of walkabout in Europe. Cutting
a long story short, I was delighted
when she agreed to let me take her to
see the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond
the following day. After a day full
of adventures, including a delicious
meal at a farmhouse where we sought
shelter in the pouring rain and where
it turned out the farmer used to work
for one of the young lady’s friends
in New South Wales, we were sitting
on a rock at Balmaha. We got to discussing
the previous night’s recital and she
told me how she had visited Duruflé
and his wife at their home in Paris.
She mentioned that when she had seen
him he was actually quite ill. I now
know that Duruflé had a serious
car accident in 1975 which severely
incapacitated him. She wondered how
long he would survive. I could tell
that she was genuinely attached to the
composer and the thought of his impending
death deeply troubled her. I recall,
even as a young lad, thinking that he
must have been quite a character to
create this kind of loyalty and concern.
My friend went back to New South Wales
via the United States and in spite of
a flurry of correspondence we lost touch.
Yet I never lost my interest in the
music of Duruflé. I explored
his small repertoire in depth and discovered
a delightful world of inventive, interesting
and often passionate music.
A few brief biographical
notes will be in order. Maurice Duruflé
was born at Louviers, near Rouen on
January 11th 1902. At the
age of ten he was entered to the choir
school at Rouen Cathedral where he studied
piano, organ and theory. It was at this
time that some key formative musical
experiences were laid down. Gregorian
chant, which was to become an essential
feature of his work, was regularly used
at mass in those pre-Vatican 2 days.
After this education he moved to Paris
where he studied with the great Louis
Vierne. At this time he was assistant
to the enigmatic Charles Tournemire
at Saint-Clotilde. Further study with
Ernest Gigout and Paul Dukas gave him
an incredible technical background as
both an organist and composer. As a
result of this expertise, Duruflé
was selected as organist of St. Etienne-du-Mont
in Paris at the age of 28. During the
war he was appointed to the staff of
his old alma mater, the Paris Conservatory.
In 1953 he married
Marie-Madeleine Chevalier, who was also
a considerable musician. He gained a
number of prestigious awards including
the ‘Grand Prix du Disque’ for the recording
of his Requiem on Erato. In the
mid nineteen-sixties he embarked on
two highly acclaimed tours of the United
States. In 1975 he was involved in a
serious car accident in the south of
France; as a result of his injuries
he lost the ability to play the organ.
The choral work Notre Père
was most probably his last composition.
Maurice Duruflé died on 11th
June 1986 – some twelve years later.
When I read his obituary in the musical
press I wondered if he had suffered
much over the years. I hoped and prayed
that was not the case. I wondered how
my friend felt on hearing this news
in Sydney. I was never to know.
composed very little. I understand that
he was extremely self critical and probably
destroyed many pieces that he was not
totally satisfied with. All his works
were meticulously composed; there is
never a note too many. His greatest
works perhaps are his Requiem Op.
9 which was written in 1947 and
perhaps his Prélude et fugue
sur le nom d’Alain,’ Op 7.
sound is crucially influenced from two
main directions; firstly, Louis Vierne
and secondly, Charles Tournemire. Vierne
was possibly the biggest name of his
day. Organist at Notre Dame he is the
composer of a great cycle of Organ
Symphonies amongst many other works
for organ and other instrumental forces.
It was Vierne who gave Duruflé
a sense of form in his works. There
was always a danger when using Gregorian
chant as a compositional basis, to meander.
Vierne insisted of form and structure.
Furthermore Vierne was a virtuoso performer
as was Duruflé. He encouraged
the younger man to make full use of
both the organist’s and the organ’s
technical capabilities in all his compositions.
influenced Duruflé in another
direction altogether. This French composer
was well known for his improvisations.
He had been a student of the legendary
César Franck. His major achievement
was to combine an acute understanding
of Roman Catholic liturgical practice
with his personal, almost mystical style
of writing. His masterpiece is the L’orgue
Mystique, which is a huge cycle
of pieces spanning the churches year.
It makes use of the plainchant that
the missal prescribed for each Sunday
and major feast. Tournemire was influenced
by the organ style of César Franck
and the harmonic freedom of Claude Debussy.
He was one of the earliest of composers
to explore the scales and modes of a
variety of Eastern cultures.
great use of Gregorian chant though
not, perhaps, to the degree of Tournemire.
Duruflé’s use of it is highly
individual and creative. The music is
not all meandering as one might imagine.
He uses plainsong to generate harmonic
and contrapuntal structures which can
be used in a variety of moods. Nicolas
Kaye states that his muse extends from
‘the ethereal to the powerfully foreboding.’
I agree with this, but feel that even
in the more exuberant moments there
is a powerful restraint stopping the
music somehow getting out of hand. Even
the great Toccata from the Suite
Op 5 never loses the plot; it is
always under control. One other trait
of the composer’s muse that is evident
in the virtually unknown orchestral
‘Three Dances’ is a sense of
the exotic. This was not really developed
in his other works, although there are
a number of intimations of this in both
the organ and the choral pieces.
The Suite Op.5 is
Maurice Duruflé’s longest work
composed for organ. It is also perhaps
his best known, although it may just
be eclipsed by the work in memory of
Jehan Alain. However, there is no doubt
that this work is a masterpiece and
is a defining work in the history of
organ literature. I remember being terribly
impressed on hearing the entire work
being performed in Glasgow Cathedral.
Of course, as noted above I had been
introduced to Duruflé’s music
by way of the Toccata alone.
But to hear the complete work revealed
the exciting last movement in the context
where it belonged. As part of my thinking
for this review I sat down with the
score of the Op.5 and followed
it with the present recording. I am
more convinced than ever that this work
should be listened to entire. It is
not fair to take the Toccata
out of context. I concede that it may
be acceptable to do this for a recessional
voluntary after mass or a wedding. But
at a recital I feel it ought to be all
or nothing. Like all of this composer’s
music there is a sense of unity created
from the first to the last bar. This
is not really by quotation; it is really
something that is often quite indefinable.
The Suite was
dedicated to one of Duruflé’s
composition teachers – Paul Dukas. Unfortunately
that great composer is basically remembered
for one work – The Sorcerer’s
Apprentice. Out of 89 recordings
of this work some 59 are dedicated to
this single piece. So much for Walt
Disney! However I recommend a study
of his great Symphony in C major
or his wonderful Piano Sonata.
Then there is his opera Ariane et
There are three movements
in the present Suite. The opening
Prélude is marked as Lento.
It begins with long slow notes that
slowly but surely build up into more
animated music. One of the features
of this movement is the large number
of time signature changes – this leads
to a complex, unsettled feel to the
music. There is a funereal sense to
this music that not even the massive
climax can quite dispel. This pinnacle
subsides into one of Duruflé
favoured ‘recitative’ sections. The
music becomes reflective before the
end of this movement is reached.
The second movement
is a Sicilienne in 6/8 time.
It is a long flowing piece that is based
on the rondo form. Yet somehow the listener
is not really aware of this structure.
The music seems to evolve, always leading
towards the conclusion where a number
of the elements are combined. The last
statement of the theme with accompanying
triplets is a stroke of genius. This
is one of the truly lovely, intimate
moments in Duruflé’s corpus.
is a splendid work - I have already
mentioned how it impressed me as a young
man. It must be regarded as one of the
great ‘war horses’ of organ literature.
It ranks beside other Toccatas
by Vierne, Widor, Gigout and Johann
Sebastian Bach himself. It is written
very much as would be expected of such
a work. Full of complex figurations
that require a virtuoso’s technique,
it never relaxes. Like all good examples
of the form there is a strong pedal
‘refrain’ that underpins the semiquaver
activity on the manuals. Of course there
are moments when the tempo eases off
or the tension relaxes a bit. However,
the feeling is given of great energy
surging forward to ‘an ecstatic conclusion.’
a miniature to the ‘festschrift’ for
the teacher of composition Jean Gallon
upon his retirement. Gallon had taught
a number of illustrious musicians between
1919 and 1948, including Olivier Messiaen,
Henri Dutilleux and Paul Tortelier.
The piece by Duruflé was composed
in 1949 and entitled Chant Donné.
It is difficult to decide whether or
not the piece was originally written
with the organ in mind. The holograph
is in short score on two staves, but
the published version was in four staves
using ‘antique’ notation. There is no
indication of instrumentation. So perhaps
it could be a short string quartet movement?
It is very short, at under a minute
and half. However, its attractive modal
harmonies and rather lovely melody make
this a delicious miniature. The last
chord seems just a little too long for
is a small but extremely attractive
piece. It was written and dated in 1964
but was not published until 2002. This
was around about the time of Duruflé’s
first concert tour of the United States.
I am unaware if it was played there.
The Meditation is cast in the
form of a rondo; the main theme or as
the programme notes refer to it as the
‘refrain’ was used by the composer in
the Agnus Dei of a later choral
work, the Opus 11 Messe cum Jubilo.
This is quite an introverted piece that
muses on the theme which is quite angular
in its melodic construction, even if
it has its roots in Gregorian chant.
The interludes exploit the string stops
and give the work an air of improvisation.
The piece ends with a long closing chord.
It is not a major work but one that
adds a pleasant number to the composer’s
limited catalogue of organ pieces.
sur l’introit de l’Épiphanie
Op.13, was written for an anthology
of music for use before mass. It was
entitled ‘Preludes à l’introït.’
It was composed in response to a commission
by the musicologist and organologist
(a new word for me!) Norbert Dufourcq.
It was written in 1961 at the time when
the composer had received the Vatican
citation of Commander in the Order of
St Gregory. This is appropriate. The
composer uses a tune or cantus firmus
which is firmly in the ‘Gregorian’ model.
This is played on the ‘trompette.’ Around
this theme he weaves a complex but always
modal counterpoint. It is one of these
pieces that although short in actual
minutes seems to be almost timeless.
Not the greatest work on this CD but
certainly one that deserves our attention.
I think that the Scherzo
Op.2 is one of the best works on
this disc. It never ceases to entrance
me. Yet it was written as an examination
exercise. It was completed when Duruflé
was a student at the Paris Conservatory
in January 1926. The work was dedicated
to his organ teacher Charles Tournemire
who at that time was organist at Sainte-Clothilde,
Paris. The score is inscribed, ‘To my
dear master, Charles Tournemire in grateful
This work displays
the influence of both Vierne and the
dedicatee, yet it is a completely new
piece not at all dependent on anything
that has gone before. It is anything
but an academic exercise. It displays
all that is best in Duruflé’s
compositional skill. There is an imaginative
sense of colour; it has a hazy mystical
feel to it that defies categorisation
and is a difficult work that calls for
considerable skill from the organist.
In spite of the cloudy feeling to this
work it is on strong formal foundations.
In fact it is a small rondo. The work
opens slowly and quietly with string
stop sound. But soon, what Flamme calls
‘motorically filigree playing figures’
announces the main rondo refrain. These
are technically complex and difficult.
The episodes are based on chorale motives
which provide considerable contrast.
Throughout the entire work the listener
is captivated by the many mood swings,
changes of tempo and complex modulations.
A great work, indeed.
I had never heard the
Fugue sur le thème du Carillon
des Heures de la Cathédrale de
Soissons until this recording. It
is a short piece – barely three minutes
long. Yet the musical content is intense.
The work was written in 1962 for an
anthology of music published to commemorate
the twenty-fifth anniversary of Louis
Vierne’s death. According to the programme
notes the theme of this fugue is based
on the melody of the clock at Soissons
Cathedral. It is perhaps a bit of an
unusual fugue. The theme is presented
at the beginning with counterpoint as
opposed to the usual single voice. Duruflé
uses all the academic devices that are
available to composers of fugue. However
there is nothing pedantic about this
work. From its gigue-like opening to
the final chords it is full of vigour
and even fun. The programme notes point
out that Vierne himself had written
a piece which he dedicated to his pupil,
Duruflé based on a bell sequence
at St Geneviève-du-Mont. He had
called it Matines. So it is pleasant
to see the pupil similarly honouring
Another work which
is full of the Duruflé magic
is the Prelude, Adagio et Choral
varié sur le thème du
Veni Créator Op. 4. This
work was presented as an entry to a
composition competition organized by
the ‘Friends of the Organ’ (Les Amis
de l’orgue) in 1930. Naturally, this
present work won first prize. However
it is remarkable that this is only his
second published work for the organ.
The form of the work
is a Triptych. The word is more commonly
met in the art world where it means
a painting or perhaps a carving, often
as an altarpiece that has three panels
side by side. The transferred meaning
is something composed or presented in
three parts or sections.
The work begins with
a rather fast but very quiet passage
in triplets. This is the basis of the
whole of the first movement. Melodic
phrases rise out of this rippling effect
based on plainsong –one of the fragments
nodding to the theme used in the last
movement. One of the characteristics
of this work is the ‘interlude’ material
between movements. At the end of this
Prélude, the triplets
give way to a Lento passage of long
notes. There is a complimentary recitative
passage before the second part of the
triptych begins. The Adagio is
truly the heart of the work. It is signed
to be played ‘sweetly and sustained.’
There are additional directions instructing
the performer to play with warmth and
with much expression. This is, as a
friend of mine from Coatbridge once
said, seven minutes of pure organ-music
heaven. Once again we become aware of
the transitional material that leads
to the last movement. After the halfway
point of the movement the music becomes
much more turbulent. The composition
becomes louder and more insistent and
even quite violent. However it ends
quietly. There is a short pause before
the great theme of ‘Veni Creator’
is announced in all its glory. There
follows four variations. The first with
triplets harks back to the opening movement.
The second is for manuals only. The
third is an academic structure – a canon
at the fifth. However it is the last
variation that sums up the work. It
is a brilliant Toccata that seems
to arrive from nowhere and goes on to
dominate all that has gone before. The
work closes with a very loud Largamente.
This is not the forum
to discuss the life and works of the
French organist and composer Jehan Alain,
save to make one comment. Alain was
perhaps the single greatest loss to
French music sustained during the Second
World War. I remember many years ago
visiting the spot on the bridge at Saumur
in the Loire Valley where the 31 year
old soldier was reputed to have been
hit. I found it an extremely poignant
and moving moment. I stood there with
the sounds of his Litanies echoing
in my mind. It has given me a soft spot
for his music.
The Prelude et fugue
sur le nom d’Alain is perhaps Maurice
Duruflé’s best known work? It
was composed immediately after Alain’s
death in 1942; the score is prefaced
with the following words (translated)
– ‘To the memory of Jehan Alain, who
died for France.’
The work is based on
two major elements - a motive derived
from the letters A.L.A.I.N. related
to the scale, and a second motif taken
from what was perhaps Alain’s masterpiece
‘Litanies.’ Of course Duruflé
uses a little creative licence here.
The key relation is between the two
‘A’ notes. For the other letters Duruflé
feels free to use other notes useful
to his purpose. The actual note sequence
is a – d - a – a – f.
The opening prelude
is in the style of a perpetuum mobile
– in many ways it is quite will o’ the
wisp. Soon the second motif emerges.
This is not really a direct quotation
of Litanies – much more of a
paraphrase. Yet to anyone knowing the
dead composer’s music it is obvious.
However there are no profundities here
in the music – the sadness is only apparent
to those who know the work’s genesis.
There is actually a sense of pure delight
in these difficult pages. At the end
of the prelude the Litanies theme
is quoted verbatim before leading onto
The fugue is a double
fugue. For those that maybe do not know
what this means – it is simple. It is
a fugue based on two separate subjects.
The first theme is a quiet and slightly
introspective 6/8 theme based on the
A.L.A.I.N. motive This in turn gives
way to a new theme written in semiquavers.
This is totally complementary to what
has gone before. Strict fugal procedures
are used to combine both themes and
leads up to a fine peroration. I must
say at once that although this fugue
is academic – it is not as dry as dust.
The music actually wears it structure
well. In fact it is a moving tribute
to a great man. It is triumphant and
reflects a tremendous hope both for
the memory of Jehan Alain and for the
greater good of La France for which
he so bravely laid down his life. It
is a beautiful tribute from one fine
composer to another.
The recording of these
works is superb. The CD is presented
in the ‘Surround’ format which is designed
to give the effect of actually being
in the Stiftskirche at Bad Gandersheim.
Of course the CD is playable on ordinary
‘hi-fi’ equipment and sounds equally
The organ itself is
a beauty. A large three manual with
fifty speaking stops, it was built by
Manufacture d’Orgue Mühleisen based
in Strasbourg. It was inaugurated in
2000 and replaced and earlier nineteenth
century instrument that has been patched
up over the years. The organ was specifically
designed so that the whole range of
the repertoire can be played – from
baroque through to the complex music
of Messiaen, Vierne and Duruflé.
The organist, Friedhelm
Flamme plays these works with great
skill and conviction. It is perfectly
clear from this recording that he is
in his element with these works. Not
only is he an extremely able player,
he also wrote the exceptionally learned
programme notes. However, these lose
a little in the translation, but are
still a model of their genre.
I am unimpressed by
the unusual CD box design. All my discs
have boxes with square corners – except
this one. Why have CPO decide to use
round corners - it looks untidy on my
shelf. I will, of course, replace it
with a standard box so it slots neatly
into the ‘D’ section in my organ CDs
– between Dupre and Dyson. There is
no need to be this creative –
just because it is Surround sound!
Of course there are
a number of other versions of the complete
organ works by Duruflé. One thinks
of John Scott’s version on the organ
of St Paul. However that particular
cathedral is noted for the 10 second
reverberation that muddies much of the
complex figurations of this music. Olivier
Latry’s performance on the organ that
the composer played at St Etienne in
Paris is perhaps the most authentic.
However, the present version is a fine
addition to the seven or eight other
versions available. It will remain in
my collection as first choice for some
years to come.