Top of page

French Composers for Organ: Part Deux

Share this post:

Last month, I gave a snapshot of two French composers who wrote for organ: Louis Vierne and Olivier Messiaen. Today I’m publishing part deux of that post, listing some additional French composers that organists or organ lovers may be interested in learning more about. Each brief biography is followed by a selected list of organ compositions available from the NLS Music Collection (note: the pieces listed are in braille format unless indicated otherwise).

Charles-Marie Widor

Charles-Marie Widor was born in Lyon in 1844 into an organ-centric family, as his father was also an organist and his first teacher. He later studied organ in Brussels with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens and François-Joseph Fétis. Eventually in 1868 he was appointed assistant to Camille Saint-Saëns at Église de la Madeleine in Paris, and later as principal organist at Saint-Sulpice in Paris. He also succeeded César Franck as organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire, but later left this post to take over the composition chair. In 1921, Widor founded the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, which we have talked about in this blog post. At the age of 89, Widor retired from his post at Saint-Sulpice in 1933, and four years later passed away at the age of 93. Here are some pieces by Widor in the NLS music collection:

Marche ecossaise, bar by bar format (BRM06204)
Marche pontificale, from Organ Symphony no. 1, op. 13 (BRM04255)
Serenade, bar by bar format (BRM01815)
Symphonie gothique, op. 70, bar over bar format (BRM30900)
Symphony no. 2, op. 13, paragraph format (BRM05151)
Symphony no. 4, op. 13, bar over bar format (BRM00810)
Symphony no. 5 in F, op. 42, paragraph format (BRM03725)
Symphony no. 6 in G minor, op. 42, bar over bar format (BRM22080)
Toccata: from the Fifth Symphony, op. 42, paragraph format (BRM22277)

Toccata: from the Fifth Symphony, op. 42 (LPM00860), large print format

Marcel Dupré

Marcel Dupré was born in Rouen in 1886, and, like Widor, his organist father was his first teacher. Dupré entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 18 where he studied with Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor, among others.  Dupré was perhaps the most naturally gifted of his organist peers, and some consider him a child prodigy. He had an exceptional performing career, traveling throughout the world. One famous recital series had Dupré performing the complete catalog of Bach in 10 concerts, all from memory (each concert spaced only two weeks apart)! In addition to his performing, Dupré held the position of principal organist at Saint-Sulpice after Charles-Marie Widor’s death, and was also a professor and director at the Paris Conservatoire. He was a prolific composer for the organ, but also wrote music for piano, orchestra, choir, and chamber ensembles. Here are some pieces by Dupré in the NLS music collection:

3 preludes and fugues, op. 7, paragraph format (BRM21134)
Le chemin de la croix, bar over bar format (BRM25260)
Cortège et litanie, op 15, no. 2, bar by bar format (BRM23663)
Symphony, organ, no. 2, op. 26, C sharp major, bar over bar format (BRM25383)
Marche, op. 27, no. 2, bar over bar format (BRM33291)
Placare Christe servulis, no.16 from Le tombeau de Titelouze, bar over bar format (BRM36711)
Seventy-nine chorales, op. 28, bar over bar format (BRM00759)
Symphonie-passion: op. 23, bar over bar format (BRM25240)
Trois préludes et fugues pour grand orgue, op. 7, bar over bar format (BRM23005)
Variations sur un noel: op. 20, bar over bar format (BRM08154)

Maurice Duruflé

Maurice Duruflé was born in 1902 in the commune of Louviers, near Rouen. He attended the Rouen Cathedral Choir School until age 16, where he studied piano and organ, along with singing in the choir. When he turned 18, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, and graduated winning first prizes in organ, harmony, fugue, accompaniment, and composition.

After graduating, he became Louis Vierne’s assistant at Notre-Dame de Paris. The two were long-time friends, and Duruflé was present during Vierne’s death at the organ. Duruflé was also named the principal organist at St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris. Although he composed many works for organ, he is perhaps most famous for his Requiem, op. 9, which is written for choir, soloists, organ, and orchestra. In 1975, when Duruflé was 73, he endured traumatic injuries due to a severe car accident. Sadly, this crash marked the end of his performing. He later passed away in 1986 at the age of 84. Here are some pieces by Duruflé in the NLS Music Collection:

Fugue sur la thème du Carillon des Heures de la cathédral de Soisson, bar over bar format (BRM29579)
Prélude, adagio et choral varié: sur le thème “Veni Creator”, bar over bar format (BRM24684)
Prélude et fugue sur le nom d’Alain: op. 7, bar over bar format (BRM25365)
Suite pour orgue, op. 5 (BRM36190)
Requiem, op. 9, vocal score (BRM36129, vol. 1 (soprano), vol. 2 (alto), vol. 3 (tenor), vol. 4 (bass))
Requiem, op. 9, full score in bar over bar, open score, and short form score formats (BRM32351)

Requiem, op. 9 (LPM00795), large print format

If you’d like to order hard copies of this material for loan, would like to download the materials from BARD and need some guidance, or if you would like to explore more materials of the NLS Music Collection and learn about our service, please email us at [email protected], or give us a phone call at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2. We are happy to help and look forward to hearing from you!

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.