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Jehan Alain (1911-1940) was heir to the French organ tradition, literally and figuratively. He studied organ with Marcel Dupré at the Paris Conservatory (winning a first prize) and worked as an organist at a church in Maisons-Laffitte and a synagogue in Paris. His father was organist and composer Albert Alain, who built a highly original salon organ that influenced Jehan's flair for sonority on the instrument. Jehan's brother Olivier Alain was a pianist and composer and his sister Marie-Claire Alain is an organist who recorded her brother Jehan's music, as well as three traversals of the complete organ works of Bach.
Jehan Alain was only 29 when he was killed in battle in World War II (receiving a posthumous Croix de Guerre), but he had already created a substantial body of distinctive music. His Suite for organ, composed 1934-36, received a prize from the Amis de l'Orgue (of which his father was a founder-member). The three movements of the Suite are all in a free, Debussyan harmony, but strongly tilting toward the minor mode. The Introduction and Variations are a brooding, rhapsodic fantasy, richly developed. The Scherzo starts in a questing/questioning mood, but bursts into a dark dance full of cross-rhythms and ostinatos. The Choral opens grandly, but mediates dissonant tensions before finding its way to gleaming finality.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.