2013-05-19 Notes from the Bench

“Chorale and Toccata on ‘Veni Creator’” by Maurice Duruflé
A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

Today’s postlude is an excerpt from a longer and well-known work for organ solo, “Prélude, adagio et choral varié sur le theme du ‘Veni Creator’” op. 4, composed in 1930 by the French organist, composer, and teacher Maurice Duruflé (1902 – 1986). The entire work is based on the Pentecost hymn and the Gregorian chant melody, Veni Creator, Spiritus. This hymn appears in The Hymnal 1982, # 502, and is among the repertoire of a variety of Christian traditions.

Duruflé was born in Louviers, Eure, a township in northern France. As a youth, he studied piano and organ, and sang as a chorister at the Rouen Cathedral Choir School. In 1920, after moving to Paris, Duruflé enrolled in the Paris Conservatory, where he studied organ, harmony, piano accompaniment, and composition, and was awarded first prizes in all these areas. He studied organ with Charles Tournemire, the titular organist at the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, and served as his assistant there until 1927.

He was nominated for the position of assistant organist for Notre Dame Cathedral by his lifelong friend, Louis Vierne, and served in this capacity from 1927 -1929. Duruflé was appointed the titular organist for the church of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris in 1929, and remained in this position until his death. In 1936, Duruflé was awarded the prestigious Prix Blumenthal, a grant awarded through the philanthropy of Florence Meyer Blumenthal (1875-1930) to financially support young French artists while drawing the United States and France closer together through the arts. From 1943 until 1970, he was a Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris. Maurice and his second wife, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier Duruflé, who served as his assistant organist at St-Étienne-du-Mont, were a famous organ duo, performing several concert tours during the 1960s and early 1970s. Duruflé was severely injured in a car accident in 1975 that resulted in his decision to give up performing. His wife took over his duties at St-Étienne-du-Mont while he remained confined to his apartment for the remainder of his life.

As a composer, Duruflé was a perfectionist and highly critical of his own works. He was constantly editing his compositions and he often destroyed manuscripts of pieces he had worked on but felt were unsatisfactory. As a result, only a handful of his works were published, which were often edited or changed by him after initial publication. He is best known for his organ and choral works, but wrote chamber music, piano works, and orchestral works. His music is finely crafted and continues to remain within the standard repertoire of organists and choirs today.

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