2013-04-28 Notes from the Bench

“Messe Solennelle” by Jean Langlais
A commentary on this week’s music by Scott Youngs, Director of Music

Jean Langlais’ “Messe Solennelle” was written in 1951, and although it is not strictly based on plainsong, it is certainly influenced by it. You will recognize the parallel fifths and octaves; an almost organum-like treatment juxtaposed with harsh discards. True counterpoint begins in the “Gloria,” which begins as a fugue. Langlais’ writing is extremely chromatic, and that is reflected in the number of accidentals (flats & sharps) in every measure. The great washes of color and dramatic chords set the Mass in a way that conveys power and mystery in the language of French chromaticism.

We are delighted to have Canto Vivo joining the Chamber Choir of All Saints’ to sing the ordinary of the Mass as set by Jean Langlais. Canto Vivo, a program of Mesa Community College, rehearses here at All Saints’ and performs choral concerts here throughout the year. Having them with us for a service is a very special treat, and will introduce you to their fine work. Please watch for their concerts here in the future!

The French organist and composer Jean Langlais was born in 1907 in Brittony. Blind from childhood, be studied organ with the great André Marchal, himself blind, and like so many French organists of the time, a highly skilled improviser. Langlais went on to study at the Paris Conservatory with Marcel Dupré, and with Charles Tournemire at the church of St. Clothilde. By 1945, Langlais had succeeded Tournemire at St. Clothilde where he continued the line of organists from none other than César Franck. I had the honor of studying with Langlais at St. Clothilde on the famous Cavaillé-Coll organ for a year in Paris.

Susan Ferré was one of Langlais’ favorite protégé’s and was my first organ teacher. Today’s prelude “Poem of Peace” was dedicated to her. The postlude is a Fantasie by Charles Tournemire, and shows the foundations of Langlais’ style of composition.

Langlais toured continually throughout his life, and was famous for his improvisations as well as all things Franck-related. He would always request a theme from a musician in the audience, and then create an entire organ symphony, including a 4 to 6 voice fugue, based on that theme.

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