2014-11-02 Notes from the Bench

“Toccata” by Théodore Dubois

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) was a French composer, organist, and an important music teacher. Dubois’s “Toccata,” written in 1889, is his best-known organ work and is frequently performed during recitals around the world. This work is typical of the French toccata genre, a “touch” piece that displays the organist’s virtuosity and written with rapid figuration. In addition to being great recital pieced, these works are useful to perform as postludes to worship services because they are highly energetic and usually bring great enjoyment to listeners; and to be honest, are fun for the organist to play.



Dubois was born in Rosnay, France. His music studies include work with Louis Fanart, choirmaster at Reims Cathedral, and Ambroise Thomas at the Paris Conservatoire. He was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1861 for composition. Dubois held prestigious positions at Parisian churches; he was the choirmaster for the Church of the Madeleine from 1868 to 1871, choirmaster for the Basilica of Saint-Clotilde from 1871-1877, succeeding César Franck, and returned to the Church of the Madeleine in 1877 as the organist, succeeding Camille Saint-Saëns. In addition to the church positions he held, Dubois was an important and influential teacher. He wrote important music theory treatises on counterpoint and fugue, and harmony. Dubois taught harmony at the Paris Conservatoire and was the director of the institution from 1896-1905. Dubois resigned from that post when he refused to award Maurice Ravel the Prix de Rome, which sparked controversy and a great public outcry against him.

Theodore DuboisDubois is best remembered for his religious works, which include oratorios, cantatas, masses, and compositions for the organ. During his lifetime, Dubois desired to establish his career writing operatic works, and wrote nine operas. However, these works were not successful, poorly received by audiences, and today are not performed. He also composed music for ballet, chamber music, piano works, and orchestral music that include three symphonies.


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