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The sudden death of organist and composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940) during the early months of World War II inspired Maurice Duruflé to honor him by writing his Prelude and Fugue on the Name ALAIN. Using the alphabet-to-musical-pitch cypher from Ravel’s Minuet sur le nom d’Haydn in which letters beyond H (which depicts the B natural) simply reattach to the musical pitches in order, “ALAIN” becomes “ADAAF” or the outline of a D-minor triad.  

The quickly pulsating texture in an unpredictably shifting triple meter sets off interplay between a chant-like theme and another theme based on Alain’s Litanies. The resultant sonic architecture and hypnotic effect are further nuanced by Duruflé’s exacting instructions for registrations.

— Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin and a JD from McGeorge School of Law.