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What do you appreciate about Dupré's music? That's a good question. Whether I really like Marcel Dupré's music, I honestly don't know. I would say that it is generally well done. In terms of counterpoint, there is nothing to complain about. The emotional expression is not that developed. I can't decide whether it is a reflection of an era or a reflection of a person. Because it comes from a time when there were composers to whom it was important to achieve emotional expression through musical affect, such as Messiaen. One could name others if one thinks of the music of Langlais or Litaize. Sometimes you can find more expressive pieces than is the case with Dupré. Schumann said in his „Advice to Young Musicians": "Beware of pieces that please you at first hearing". Dupré can claim that for some pieces. This is an example of how Dupré’s music sometimes simply requires time
for the player as well as for the listener to learn to appreciate what each piece has to offer. The ambivalence that Olivier Latry and Winfried Bönig are referring to may be felt by many who hear Dupré's music for the first time. Indeed, with few exceptions, Dupré's music is not characterised by an exuberance of emotion. When our interview partners were asked through which piece they first came into contact with Dupré, it was always the "3 Preludes and Fugues op. 7", the " Passion Symphony" or the „Stations of the Cross“. These are all pieces that have a close tonal relationship to the great French organ tradition. Music with earworm quality can only be found in Dupré's work to a limited extent. His works, especially the late ones, are not always immediately accessible to the listener. But the music also demands a lot from the performer, leaving aside the technical requirements. However formally correct the music may be, the systematic structure is sometimes
not immediately apparent. It takes time to find a consistent concept of performance. A "challenge", as Jeremy Filsell calls it, pointing out characteristics of the music. He was a contrapuntalist, so he thought in terms of motif rather than melody. I don’t think you can find a Dupré melody that is really beautiful. It’s actually music that is born of the harmony, it’s born of gesture, it’s born of motifs, a fugal motif, a chaconne, a ricercar. The “Triptyque” is a classic example of what is a series of gestures. You know the last movement ... You can cut them out with scissors and put them in another order. I think the challenge in a lot of Dupré is to try and find a thread in your performance. There’s some music that requires more work.
And not just on the part of the performer but on the part of the listener as well. In episode 9 on www.dupre-digital.org, you will find a link to the aforementioned "Triptyque" op. 51. Dupré wrote it for the inauguration of the organ in the Ford Auditorium in Detroit in 1957. This piece illustrates, among other things, Dupré's process of compositional transformation. If one recalls the music of Episodes 1-4, the poetry and elegance of his earlier works give way to a more rational style. At the same time, it is noticeable that Dupré continues to feel committed to tradition. Titles such as Canon, Chaconne, Quodlibet, Ricercar appear again and again in his works, referring to forms that were more common in the 16th and 17th century. As a master of counterpoint, he often used imitative and fugal forms as well, of course. He was unrivalled in that and of course he knew that. He held on to these classical principles and traditions
throughout his life. For him, that was his foundation. Dupré has found a new language and at the same time never completely rejected or discarded the past. In that I see a really great, creative, new way that takes the old with it. And it's more difficult with the pieces where one suspects too much construction. Among the pieces that could be described as "constructed" are the "Three Preludes and Fugues op. 36" from 1939, the „sibling“, so to speak, to Opus 7. It is clear from many of the details that can be found in the printed music how important it was for Dupré to assert himself internationally as a composer who possessed a high level of technical expertise. A very early piece, the B minor Fugue op 7 is a very good fugue, it’s all worked out.
Or think of later op 36 the number 2 the A flat fugue. Again, it’s a very strict fugue, with two counter subjects and the second subject: all written in the score to tell us what is happening. But at the end, just as in the B major fugue, it’s like you feel the concert improviser not bringing the fugue to a kind of sober ending but wanting to burst back into the toccata. And it’s so funny in the A flat fugue that every note has a little annotation telling us, you know exactly what’s going on. You think, it seems a little insecure in a way, to say, I’m a really very serious composer. It’s wonderful counterpoint, it’s brilliantly put together. But at the same time here’s the character of a person who wants to make a lot of noise on the organ and to play some sort of fast chords. Being held in check and then bursting out in the end. I think, actually perhaps that’s the most successful style.
Maybe that’s the sort of quintessential Dupré. Those two things are being held in a sort of creative tension, the very sober and intellectual music and the very impulsive and also sort of showmanship-kind of style. Similar to his Bach edition, Dupré provides the editions of his own works with music-analytical information and fingerings. Of course, metronome indications must not be missing. One thing is striking: In general, Dupré's metronome numbers are quite high. What always strikes me is that when he recorded his works on disc, all the tempi were much slower than the metronome numbers he gave. And he has also said that he doesn't like fast tempi. Then of course one wonders why the metronome numbers are so high. A student of Dupré's once told me
that Dupré meant no faster than this number. Dupré assigned an opus number to a total of 65 works and - with very few exceptions - also published them. At first, he also composed for ensembles without organ. From 1924 onwards, this changed and, in addition to organ works, he composed only for instrumental combinations that had the organ as a partner. In this way, he wanted to strengthen the organ in its role as a concert instrument and move it further into the focus of the entire music scene. The American organs had a great influence on Dupré's compositional work. The French organs were sometimes difficult to play because of their mechanical action, and rapid changes of stops were not possible to the same degree of variety and speed as on American organs. Dupré was able to play with greater virtuosity on the American organs with their smooth playing technique.
He was able to switch between different sound combinations much more quickly by saving different registrations. Many organs had high pressure stops, characteristic special stops such as chimes and a larger manual and pedal compass. He wrote his concert music mainly for the instruments in America. His first products were, among others, his "Variations sur un Noël" op. 20 or his "Suite bretonne" op. 21, whose first movement "Berceuse" exists in two versions. The piano version was heard at the beginning and is now followed by the organ version with Christian Barthen: One wonders when Dupré actually found the time to compose. Many of his compositions were written during his concert tours on the ship or on the train, such as the "Variations sur un Noël". As Dupré's notes on "Suite bretonne" show, his numerous commitments rendered a continuous compositional process difficult.
The "Berceuse" was written between January and September 1923, the central movement "Fileuse" between January and June 1924, and the last movement "Les Cloches de Perros-Guirec" was composed during a tour of America on 19 March 1924 during a stopover in Eau-Claire, Wisconsin. It is largely unknown that the musical idea of the last movement was not new. Dupré came up with the basic musical idea while he was still a student. Probably as a preliminary exercise for the "Prix de Rome", he scored the libretto of the lyrical cantata "Ismaïl" by Eugene Adenis in 1906. We fade in on the final scene, in which the main protagonist Ismaïl is wandering through the desert with his lover Leila. Shortly before, the two were caught in flagrante by Leila's husband committing adultery. As a result, the two are banished to the desert, where they ultimately die of thirst in the scorching heat. In the organ version, which we will hear at the end,
the lovers dying of thirst turn into Breton peasants marching to church in unison with the bells. If we think back to the music of the past episodes, to the choral songs, the Stations of the Cross or the „Deuxième Symphonie“, it is astonishing what musical-aesthetic transformation Dupré underwent during his life. It is difficult to pin him down to one style. Dupré was the ultimate chameleon in our small corner of the small world of music. You can pick any piece of Dupré. It is very hard to identify because he worked in so many different styles. But I think he was a fabulous magpie for different musics. He had a fantastic musical mind and he had a fantastic musical ear and he was able to transform all these things into a very varied musical language. But he expects you to do some work. I think where you get with Dupré is ultimate musical integrity.
Bach of course is the great touchstone for us all. There is never any compromise in Bach. And you can say the same about Dupré. You never find Dupré compromising his voice leading or his structures, his technical aspects, those are always in place. You can argue whether it is great music or not, whether it is inspiring music. But those things are never compromised. And those things mean that you find the expression, the heart of the music as a byproduct of that discipline. In the composition "Résonances", Dupré presents himself in a completely different way than in the music of this episode. It is his last major work for organ and orchestra, which was not premiered until 2019 and will be heard in the composer's version for organ and piano for the first time in the next episode. The Nymphéas project also launches next week, with young up-and-coming organists around the globe.
You will find more information on www.dupre-digital.org/nympheas Be curious, inform your community and please support Dupré Digital. Dupré is a very uneven composer. I mean, some of his music is not as good as his best music. But his best music is truly wonderful. And I also think it’s music absolutely of the modern age and has to be understood as something of a departure from the music of his predecessors. Of course, it is in that tradition. It’s in the Widor tradition. But it seems to me to be music of the 1910s and 1920s, with all of the signifiers of that kind of music. And of course, it doesn’t sound like “The rite of Spring” [Stravinsky] but there are qualities which it has in common with exactly that music that set Paris alight in the early years of the 20th century. And I think that, perhaps he’s due of some reconsideration as a musician of the modern age.
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