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Over the years, Dupré not only conquered the concert stages and organ galleries of the world, but also associated with the higher circles of politics and society. He acted as the French president's envoy during his concert tour to Australia or played at the wedding of the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, to the divorced American Wallis Simpson, which received much attention in the tabloids. Through his travels to numerous countries, he became a person of public interest and the world took part in his life. Especially in America, he attracted a great deal of interest. Between 1921 and 1948, he toured the continent 10 times until the strain became too much for him. Besides America, Great Britain played an equally important role in his career. In both countries he was highly regarded as a virtuoso and improviser. In addition, he was appreciated as an interpreter of Bach, which
is why the publication of his Bach Edition was eagerly awaited. Actually, there was no need for another edition, since Charles-Marie Widor and Albert Schweitzer had published their Bach editions shortly before. But it seemed important to Dupré to release a complete Bach edition with his own personal imprint. Out of respect for his teacher, the first volumes of his edition did not appear until after Widor's death. In a way, Dupré continued Widor's legacy in the Bach tradition. It is important to know that the French organ school of the early 20th century considered itself to be more or less the direct heir of Johann Sebastian Bach: Widor has already said that there is a line of tradition that leads directly from Bach to us. To Lemmens, actually. But nowadays, of course, it's unthinkable to say something like that. Because every century has its own understanding and style and has changed Bach's original style.
Widor then speaks of performance rules. He refers to "règles" for the performance of Bach. Dupré extended these and called them "lois" - laws. This shows that he was even stricter and more dogmatic. For him, Bach was the same as Mendelssohn or Dupré himself in terms of performance practice. There was no difference. Today you cannot argue that this is true. Dupré's Bach edition was to develop into a lucrative business for both the publisher and the editor. He was extremely meticulous in his edition, prefaced each piece with metronome indications, provided the score with numerous pedal and fingerings and added other remarks, some of them pedagogical, which he intended as assistance but which did not always serve the clarity of the score.
Dupré's interpretation of Bach and his edition of music are often ridiculed today. Both are children of their time and one would do them wrong if they were not considered in the context of their time. Dupré’s Bach edition is a fascinating kind of artefact of the 20th century. Because it’s like the ultimate expression of a particular kind of modernist aesthetic. So, I’m thinking here of the kind of machine aesthetic, that has its expression just after the Great War in things like the so called futurism which shades into fascism. What Dupré does in his Bach edition is essentially apply a machine aesthetic to the performance of Bach. Where every note has a number, to be played with a specific finger, where every repetition is exactly notated with a little rest and you know all of that… So, I think, and I don’t want to push this too far, there is an interesting analogy with a kind of view of society
where the notes are all parts of a factory. There’s all sort of cogs in a wheel. The piece of Bach that is most often played these days in Dupré’s version is the “Sinfonia” of cantata 29. In Dupré’s arrangement it’s thrilling. It’s absolutely wonderful. But there the aesthetic works tremendously well, because it’s a kind of “moto perpetuo”. So, it has this kind of motoric propulsion about it just all the time. But I’m not sure that works so well for a chorale prelude you might find in the “Orgelbüchlein” or in the “18 Chorales” or something. But Dupré applies the same aesthetic to everything. It certainly seems to 21st century eyes a strange way to play music that has so much life in it. That sort of almost kind of squash the life out of it by imposing the system which must be abide all the time. Which is why I make this connection with something of Dupré’s time. Jeremy Filsell warns of an overly strict assessment of the practice of the time through our supposedly enlightened eyes today.
He understands Dupré's artistic and editorial approach as a reaction to the free-spirited conception of rhythm that prevailed at the time. Pianists and organists of those days played with markedly great rhythmic flexibility. Mahler played the piano with always spread chords. The rhythmic kind of staff was a very minor consideration. So I think, from Widor of course and through Dupré, there was this reaction to that style and saying actually what we want to do to be much more refined and honest about the way we play. And I’m sure a lot of that came from the reemergence of Bach’s works through these people. Although for Dupré the artistic aspect was paramount in the performance of Bach's works, he also thought about the possible theological content of the works. With his pupil Dominique Rebourgeon, he shared his thoughts on Bach's great G major fantasy – the so-called "Piece d'orgue":
He played it mysteriously, calmly, steadfastly, evenly. He galvanised me by saying: 'The first part is something pre-natal. Grave is the human path, existence, simply being here. And the end is after death.' In 2015, the “Association des amis de l'Art de Marcel Dupré”, together with 'Mercury Living Presence', re-released the old records on CD. Among them is Dupré's recording of the aforementioned Fantasia from 1959, which develops a great intensity despite its old-fashioned touch. The accounts of the 4th episode, which focused on Dupré as a church musician,
raise the question of whether Dupré saw himself more as a church or concert organist? I think Dupré loved his fame and prestige very much. And I think the successes he had as a concert organist were very important to him. He also liked to tell others about his successes, for example in America. That was important to him. In the church he showed another side of his character. But I think he was more of a concert organist than a church organist. That also corresponded to his whole nature, and his character was more of a concert organist than a church organist. Dupré was a popular guest in Great Britain. He regularly gave concerts there in front of large audiences. In the month before his death in 1971, he played his last concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
This marked the end of his international career at the same venue where it had begun some 50 years earlier. Dupré's career was launched at a time that was ideal for the art of organ playing. In the first half of the 20th century, organ concerts were a crowd puller, especially in Anglo-American countries. Certainly, in the interwar years organ concerts were still a very popular events all around the country. So, any town or city of decent size had a town hall with an organ in it and probably the town employed an organist who played there. And indeed, this has been a big development in the late 19th century in the newly wealthy industrialized cities like Manchester and Birmingham, Leeds, in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. So weekly organ recitals often at lunchtime were very popular and there are some series like this that survived until this day. Dupré attracted the crowds, but he was not the only star in the organ world of those days.
A representative of Italy among the travelling organists was Marco Enrico Bossi, for example or Edwin Lemare, a glamorous personality of the English music scene: He was organist of Saint Margaret’s Church in Westminster for a number of years. Just in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. And crowds cued around Parliament’s Square just outside the church, just opposite the Palace of Westminster, to hear his recitals. The tumultuous scenes in the run-up to Lemare's concerts resemble the reports of Dupré's concert tours. On one occasion, even the police had to intervene to clear Lemare's way through the crowds so that he could perform at all. Lemare was famous for his virtuosity. Incredible virtuoso. Indeed, there are some organ rolls left of Lemare. Astonishing virtuosity. Lemare great thing was the transcription of orchestral music. Hearing it played on the organ was just one step away from hearing as it were the real thing. Lemare’s wonderful transcriptions of a huge amount of orchestral music
and indeed with music of the opera. There are a lot of transcriptions from the “Ring”-cylce of Wagner. These drew huge crowds. So Dupré was not alone on the world stage of virtuosos and certainly there was rivalry. And so we come full circle again when we ask about the secret of his success or his unique selling point. Jeremy Filsell had already answered the question in an earlier episode: it’s Dupré's art of improvisation. Lemare is bringing orchestral music into the concert hall or into the church. What Vierne and Dupré and other French organists did, was to bring the sort of exotic thing from a foreign country, I mean a very close neighbour but a very, very different place. And that was, I think, probably most obviously articulated in their improvisation. Organists in Britain have always improvised. But the improvisation has tended to take place in the sort of corners of the liturgy.
You know, it’s there to fill gaps. In the early years of the 20th century the idea of the concert improvisation was, I think, probably something new and very fresh. His talent for improvisation was even useful for a bureaucratic trick. His friend Sir Henry Wood, the founder of the ever celebrated "Promenade Concerts", for which Dupré composed his great “Symphony in G minor” for organ and orchestra, wanted to engage him for his Handel Festival at the Crystal Palace. The problem, however, was that only English citizens were allowed to perform at the Handel Festival. Wood found a way to make it clear to the responsible authorities that "only" with the French master organist could Handel's organ concertos be performed, as intended in the original, with an improvised cadenza. His plan worked and Dupré became a recurring guest at the Handel Festival. Dupré put one of these cadenzas on paper in 1932. It is a curiosity and has a few surprises that you will hear at the end.
There is still much to tell about the concert organist, but I will stop here. Marcel Dupré is currently still a niche topic in the world of classical music. You can help to change this and attract a large public for Dupré. Use your social networks or mailing lists to draw attention to "Dupré Digital". The enthusiasm for Dupré and the project motivates my small team and me to make this content available to you free of charge. However, we are faced with high, as yet uncovered costs. That is why I am appealing to you to support "Dupré Digital" financially. The link is displayed below. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for all the donations received so far. The way that Handel organ concertos were most often heard in this country at the time when Dupré came over and played them was probably just in organ transcriptions. The whole series were arranged for solo organ by W. T. Best and he composed cadenzas.
The music is a little bit like listening to a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta those cadenzas. So it’s interesting that Dupré with his own cadenza is in a sense doing a similar thing. He is a sort of, as we would say, playing to the gallery. Interesting that he incorporates a fugue. And I think this connects with Henry Wood and Wood’s interest in contemporary music. It’s important to think of Dupré as a modern figure. He is of course somebody from the past, but I think, in the 1920s he was probably regarded as a very modern man as somebody who was absolutely of the modern age. And so, what he is doing there is reviving making new Handel’s music by contributing his own improvisation in that style.
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