Jehan Alain (1911-1940) was heir to the French organ tradition, literally and figuratively. His father was organist and composer Albert Alain, his brother Olivier Alain was a pianist and composer, and his sister Marie-Claire Alain was an organist who recorded 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. Composed in 1937, the short but ecstatically driving Litanies is probably his best-known work. “You must create an impression of passionate incantation,” Alain wrote about playing this piece. “Prayer is not a lament but a devastating tornado, flattening everything in its way. It is also an obsession. You must fill people’s ears with it, and God’s ears too! If you get to the end without feeling exhausted you have neither understood it nor played it as I would want it.”