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Last of a mighty organ line

The death has been announced of Marie-Claire Alain, one of the most influential organists of all time. She was 86.

Her father, Albert Alain (1880-1971), was an organ composer and builder. Her composer brother, Jehain Alain, died fighting the German in 1940, at the age of 29. Marie-Claire played his works all her life.

A second brother, Olivier Alan (1918-1994) was an organist and director of the conservatory in their birthplace, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Marie-Claire Alain recorded the complete organ works of J S Bach no fewer than three times.

marie claire alain

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  1. How sad.

  2. Ian HOCKLEY says:

    A very sad day for the organ world; a truly great artist and a lovely lady. What some may not realise is what a fantastic improviser she was too. What a loss.

    • Russ Davis says:

      After all these decades I didn’t know about her improvisational skills, not that another of her incalculable perfections would surprise me in the least. If only her improvs could have been recorded & released, probably too sublime to be considered in these crass days.

  3. This is truly a sad moment in the world of music, and for all of us who love the organ. She was one of the greatest organists of our time. I am so thankful that I was priveleged to hear her perform live on two occassions, most recently a few years ago here in Dallas at First Presbyterian Church. Farewell to the Grand Dame.

  4. Dale Shifler says:

    what a fine artist her style and joy she brought to so many may she remembered forever

  5. Her playing was so effortless and perfect in EVERY way. We are blessed that she made so many recordings. She was the only one that could record the complete works of Bach a fourth time and not be redundant.. A sad day indeed.

  6. RIP

    By the way, for any curious folks: Her brother is also immortalized by Dutilleux, in his chamber work “Les Citations” in a movement titled “From Janequin to Jehain Alain”.

  7. The organ world has lost a giant today. We all mourn her passing, she was a great lady.

  8. This is a sad day. A gentle champion of the best that organ music can be has handed off the banner.

  9. Jeffrey Howard says:

    With much respect from several generations of fellow organists who listened to Marie-Claire’s recordings and learned so much from her. I was never able to hear her live but I’m certainly going to re-listen to her albums again.

  10. Peter Kraft says:

    Very sad news. I too was privileged to hear Madame Alain play at South Congregational Church in New Britain, CT a number of years ago. I forget the year. I do recall she played stunningly a demanding program entirely from memory. She received an immediate standing ovation and graciously played a few encores. South Congregational has a 3-manual Gress-Miles, 87 ranks installed in 1972, the year I first moved to Hartford. Thankfully, I have a few of her recordings — one of my favorites is a CD set of the entire organ works of Franck. I also have some of her impeccable Bach playing.

    A great loss to the music world and especially to lovers of good organ music.
    Rest in Peace Madame Alain.

  11. Organ (Music) Fan says:

    Her first set of two dozen LPs introduced me to the ‘complete’ Bach organ works in the seventies. Fresh playing (she was still young) and contemporary organs (all Scandinavian) drew me into many, many hours of attentive listening. I hope those recordings will some day be reissued on CD, because they reflect a distinct period of MCA’s own life and of the organ world as a whole. Her third ‘complete’ Bach set appeals less to me, to be honest, as some renditions sound matter of factly, while others sound sublime, strangely enough. For those who never knew an organ world without her, and that means most of us, a constant and reassuring presence is no more. Adieu, Mme. Alain.

  12. Paul Emmons says:

    One of my teachers at Lawrence, Miriam Clapp Duncan, was a devoted student of both Anton Heiller and Marie-Claire Alain, and transmitted this devotion to all of us. To us “tracker backers”, Marie-Claire became almost a goddess, and so she has remained untarnished ever since. One of my fondest memories was of playing Jehan Alain’s “Litanies” for her in a master class (more-or-less as she did, of course) and hearing her compliments.

    Perhaps her patience and sheer endurance as a performer were not widely enough appreciated. The first mention of her name that name ever noticed (I must have been about 15) was from a reviewer who lamented that her American tour seemed to give her nothing but one inferior instrument after another to play. (Happily, this situation improved with time.) Mrs. Duncan told of the time her dear teacher dared to perform her brother’s “Trois Danses” at the Bavokerk in Haarlem– one of the most beautiful and impressive organs in the world, of course, but hardly ideal for this technical tour-de-force especially as in its heavy old tracker action. But she brought it off. After this Herculean feat, her back and arms ached for a week. The last time I heard her was some ten years ago at the AGO regional in Worcester, Mass. She played in a Lutheran church with an organ high in the west gallery. It was an extremely muggy, hot evening. We in the audience all sat in the pews wilting, perspiring, and sipping from our water bottles. I don’t want to think about how hot it must have been up at the console, but her playing betrayed no difficulties whatsoever, as though she were as cool as a cucumber– which in a way, she always was.

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