Subtitles prepared by human
The faithful are also Mr Dupré's parishioners. By this I do not mean the master's intimates who constantly besiege him, They are strangers who have come from afar to hear him, and who ask the priest who passes by or the receptionist in the most diverse languages: "What time will Mr Dupré play?” It sounds like a profanatio to come here for the organist and not for the service. For my part, I think that many people have come to hear Mr Dupré and have been led by him to the threshold of prayer. What I must stress above all is his awareness of the organist's own mission. Many times I have heard him say: "I am not here to disturb prayer, but to support it; I serve the liturgy.” Marcel Dupré was organist at St. Sulpice in Paris for 65 years. First he was an assistant to Charles-Marie Widor for 28 years, then from 1934 he took over as Widor’s successor until his death in 1971. The quote at the beginning is by Jean Gillet, who worked with Dupré as pastor at St. Sulpice.
He tells of a downright personality cult around Dupré. Sometimes people only came to the service to hear him. The churches in Paris have quite different prestige. The organist of St. Sulpice was a coveted and envied post and people also knew that whoever was appointed there was good. Certainly, the service was attended by people who wanted to hear music and may not have been interested in the religious aspect. Besides St. Sulpice, Notre-Dame, La Madeleine or Saint Clotilde are still among the musical beacons today. To this day, visitors and organ enthusiasts romp around the consoles and watch the players in awe. In his years as choirmaster at Notre-Dame, Denis Rouger often had the pleasure of hearing his great colleagues improvise and can well relate to the fascination of experiencing
the special moment so close to the organist: Above all, this school of improvisation was very important. If you think of [Charles] Tournemire at St. Clotilde, he was on fire, standing on the pedals, shouting and playing and making such a fuss. People were gobsmacked. He was a wild character. So was Vierne in Notre-Dame or Widor. These were people who did something very special and you had to get up to the organ gallery to experience it. The creativity at the right moment: I can understand that people used to experience that and wanted to experience it every Sunday. That's why the galleries were always so full. Improvisation still plays a big role in the Catholic Church today. There are numerous liturgical elements that are traditionally improvised by the organist to accompany them. Due to the increased number of masses and devotions on Sundays and weekdays, this tradition also arose from very practical circumstances:
It was simply easier to improvise at several successive masses than to prepare literature each time. In addition, improvisation allows one to react to liturgical circumstances in a more flexible way. For example, while the altar is being prepared for communion, or during communion itself, which varies in length depending on the number of visitors. Whenever the organist was too absorbed in his improvisation, St Sulpice had a way of nudging him, so to speak... Dupré had a little lamp in St. Sulpice. When the priest had the feeling that Dupré was no longer there, a little lamp would light up, which meant that he should start or stop playing. Although this sounds a little amusing at first, it was also a bit disrespectful to the organist. Organ playing was only allowed to take as much time as the liturgical action allowed and was not to be too independent.
This seemed to have had an influence on Dupré's motivation, as experienced by his private student Dominique Rebourgeon in the last years of Dupré's life: He never played Bach during the service. Because he said: "I don't play Bach. I am constantly interrupted and have to find an ending in the middle of the piece. I don't do that." So he improvised. I could actually understand him. I thought he was right [to improvise instead] when the little light goes on in the middle of a Bach piece, to tell me to stop so that the priest can start with his usual Sunday routine. Nevertheless, the Catholic liturgy leaves many possibilities for the organist to develop. Until the Second Vatican Council, there was even a liturgical form in which the organist was completely free musically. However, this form demonstrated the distance between the altar and the organ gallery in terms of content in an almost grotesque way:
Litaize was telling me about the principle of the “silent mass”, I don't know if you know what a “silent mass” is, which is in fact a mass that lasts about 20 minutes and in which the priest his murmured mass alone at the altar. The people are in the middle and the organist plays without interruption, except during the consecration. Litaize said to me: “This is the moment when the organist could play a symphony by Vierne or by Widor, in any case a major work.” And then he would tell me that it was quite funny, very often, the priest and the organist would turn their backs on each other, that means that they were each in their own corner, doing their own thing, there was no connection. The organist played the organ, he didn't take care of the mass at all, and I think there was also this idea before. That changed with Vatican II. Many a parish priest eyed the star cult around his organist with suspicion. On the other hand, a famous organist was a guarantee for full pews at Sunday masses.
The church very quickly realised that a great musician attracted many people. When Vierne played at Notre-Dame or Widor at St. Sulpice, people virtually came to mass just for them. It was a must to hear them. And so space was left to the great organists who had a lot to say. It was said that an organ loft was the last room where one could meet to have a chat. I think this was an important fact and it's been like that for a very long time, because even in Widor's time, especially at Saint-Sulpice, it was Widor who had the small salon built behind the organ. Widor would play the "entrée" and then go into the small salon until the next time he played, which was probably the offertory or the credo. Then he would return to the salon, and so on. Every time he stayed in the gallery, people would chat very loudly, and it was not unusual for the vicars of Saint-Sulpice to have to go up to the gallery to say: "Ladies and gentlemen, please, a little quieter".
That's how it used to be. I think that in Dupré's time it was still like that. Because Madame Dupré was there and she had to keep order. “Watch out! You can't get that close to the master! ... No, you stay there!” There really was this idea of receiving people, it seems that it's still a bit like that now. At Notre-Dame or in some other churches in Paris. Michel Tissier witnessed the sometimes lively activity in the organ loft. Dupré invited him and his cousin to the gallery of St. Sulpice after a lesson: After the lesoon, he said: “Well, come to Saint-Sulpice tomorrow for the service.” He didn't ask if I was able to attend at all. There was no discussion with him. So we came to Saint-Sulpice the next day. He then made us both go up and sit on his bench, on either side of him.
And at one point, there were always a lot of people up there: it was like a living room in the gallery. Madame Dupré tried to keep order somehow, but there were always a lot of people. There was Madame Falcinelli from time to time, Madame Falcinelli's mother, and there were some rather colourful ladies. It was quite a lively atmosphere, to say the least! Dupré's wife Jeanette played the mistress of ceremonies in the gallery, so to speak. [Marie Dufour:] Once I went up to Marcel Dupré’s tribune at Saint-Sulpice: what a ceremony! Madame Dupré screened the admirers’ arrival. They had to be announced, like at court. I was given permission to go up the three steps to the level of the organ bench to admire that immense console and the brilliant organist. He improvised a fugue in four or five voices. Afterwards, I yielded my place to the next person.
There is no concrete recorded statement from Dupré himself about his personal religiosity. He was convinced that music is an essential tool for the proclamation of faith and supports the prayer of the faithful. Moreover, he was a follower of the "humanistic zeitgeist": Dupré was an admirer of Edouard Schuré. Theosophy originated with Mrs [Helena Petrovna] Blavatsky. It has something to do with his spirituality and perhaps also with his religiosity, although during his organ services he behaved quite differently to someone who is in awe of Christian spirit. Quite the opposite: he told dirty jokes between organ playing and forgot his cues. But that was a part of Dupré:
this man-about-town with a Dupré hidden deep within who believed in the power of the spirit through music. It may not be tangible, but it is nevertheless clearly there. He really was faithful, but it is difficult to say how deeply. I think, he was in the service of the liturgy for 50 years, he played 3 masses every Sunday morning for so long, that meant something. But... ... he wasn't a mystic. He certainly wasn't. What I can say is that if he hadn't believed in anything, he would never have written the "Stations of the Cross" or the "Passion Symphony". Above all, I believe that his religion was music.
Dupré composed his "Cantique de Racine" in 1912. The title inevitably brings Gabriel Fauré's setting to mind. However, the text is different, only the author is identical: Jean Baptiste Racine. He is one of the great authors of French classicism and is often mentioned alongside Pierre Corneille. [Racine] is one of the highlights of classical literature. It was probably part of the curriculum to study Racine even earlier. His ideas are beautiful, deep and noble. I think that's one of the things that a society would like to feel in order to improve itself as a human being. It's also good for secular people, because the religiosity is not so superficial that it might bother people who don't want to believe in it. No one in France can say that Racine has no value.
For he is good for everyone and has something in store for everyone. Racine was a magician of words. He uses language as a vehicle for emotion, with a strong focus on sound effects. The 17th century is to France what the Goethe period is to us [in Germany]. The great romanist Hugo Friedrich wrote about the modernism of the 17th century: “Poems were created that express more with sounds than with words.” And that can also be said about Racine. The musicality of Racine's language naturally appealed to and inspired composers. The text of Dupré's "Cantique de Racine" is full of expressive metaphors of light that embody the divine radiance. Dupré captured this radiance in music. [Dupré:] Reflecting on beauty is a form of reflecting on God. Beauty and art all are an approach to God, a path to Him.
Watch, read, educate! © 2021