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Marcel Dupré and Poeme Heroique

Marcel_Dupré_au_grand_orgue_de_Saint-Sulpice_à_Paris

Marcel Dupré (May 3, 1886 – May 30, 1971) was a French organist, composer, and pedagogue.   Dupré was born on May 3, 1886, at Rouen in Normandy, France. Born into a musical family, he was a child prodigy. His father Albert Dupré was organist in Rouen and a friend of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who built an organ in the family house when Marcel was fourteen years old. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1904, where he studied with Louis Diémer and Lazare Lévy (piano), Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne (organ), and Charles-Marie Widor (fugue and composition). In 1914, Dupré won the Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata, Psyché.   His most often heard and recorded compositions tend to be from the earlier years of his career. During this time he wrote the Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 7 (1914Dupré became famous for performing more than 2000 organ recitals throughout Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe, which included a recital series of 10 concerts of the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1920 (Paris Conservatoire) and 1921 (Palais du Trocadéro), both performed entirely from memory.

The sponsorship of Dupre on an American transcontinental tour by the John Wanamaker Department Store interests rocketed his name into international prominence. Dupré’s “Symphonie-Passion” began as an improvisation on Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Organ. In 1924, he was elected as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, by the Fraternity’s Alpha Chapter at the New England Conservatory in Boston. In 1926, he was appointed professor of organ performance and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire, a position he held until 1954.  In 1934, Dupré succeeded Charles-Marie Widor as titular organist at St. Sulpice in Paris, a post he held until his death.  As a composer, he produced a wide-range of 65 opus numbers.  Aside from a few fine works for aspiring organists (such as the 79 Chorales op. 28) most of Dupré’s music for the organ ranges from moderately to extremely difficult, and some of it makes almost impossible technical demands on the performer (e.g., Évocation op. 37, Suite, op. 39, Deux Esquisses op. 41, Vision op. 44).

As well as composing prolifically, Dupré prepared study editions of the organ works of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schumann, César Franck, and Alexander Glazunov. He also wrote a method for organ (1927), 2 treatises on organ improvisation (1926 and 1937), and books on harmonic analysis (1936), counterpoint (1938), fugue (1938), and accompaniment of Gregorian chant (1937), in addition to essays on organ building, acoustics, and philosophy of music. As an improviser, Dupré excelled as perhaps no other did during the 20th century, and he was able to take given themes and spontaneously weave whole symphonies around them, often with elaborate contrapuntal devices including fugues. The achievement of these feats was partially due to his unsurpassed genius and partially due to his hard work doing paper exercises when he was not busy practicing or composing.  Although his emphasis as composer was the organ, Dupré’s catalog of musical compositions also includes works for piano, orchestra and choir, as well as chamber music, and a number of transcriptions. Some works initially published by HW Gray and now out of print have begun to be reissued by Crescendo Music Publications.

From 1947 to 1954, Dupre was director of the American Conservatory, which occupies the Louis XV wing of the Château de Fontainebleau near Paris.  He taught two generations of well-known organists such as Jehan Alain and Marie-Claire Alain, Jean-Marie Beaudet, Pierre Cochereau, Françoise Renet, Jeanne Demessieux, Rolande Falcinelli, Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, Jean Guillou, Jean Langlais, Carl Weinrich and Olivier Messiaen, to name only a few. In many ways Dupré may be viewed as a ‘Paganini’ of the organ – being a virtuoso of the highest order, he contributed extensively to the development of technique (both in his organ music and in his pedagogical works) although, like Paganini, his music is relatively unknown to musicians other than those who play the instrument for which the music was written. In 1954, on the death in a road accident of Claude Delvincourt, Dupré became director of the Paris Conservatoire; but he held this post for only two years before the prevailing national laws forced him to retire at the age of 70. He died on May 30, 1971, in Meudon near Paris, France.

The following work by Marcel Dupre is contained in my collection:

Poeme Heroique, op. 33 (1937).

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