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A Preview of All Saints’ Day and the Centennary of Jehan Alain (1911-1940)

October 17, 2011 , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jehan Alain 1938

    All Saints’ Day is coming soon. We will celebrate it on the first Sunday of November with the music of Jehan Alain (1911-1940). Our marvellous organist, Duane Steadman, will play a prelude and postlude by Alain, and the choir will sing the Requiem, a set of choral variations on the Gregorian chant Sacris Solemnis, and a wordless choral piece as a post-communion meditation. This also happens to be the centennial year of Alain’s birth.

A Biographical sketch of Jehan Alain, (1911-1940) edited from Wikipedia.

Alain was born in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in the western suburbs of Paris, into a family of musicians. His father, Albert Alain was an enthusiastic organist, composer and organ-builder who had studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne.
His younger brother was the composer, organist and pianist Olivier Alain (1918–1994), his youngest sister the organist Marie-Claire Alain (b. 1926).

Jehan received his initial training in the piano from Augustin Pierson, the organist of Saint-Louis at Versailles, and in the organ from his father, who had built a four-manual instrument in the family sitting room.

By the age of 11, Jehan was substituting at St. Germain-en-Laye.
Between 1927 and 1939, he attended the Paris Conservatoire and achieved First Prize in Harmony and First Prize in Fugue.
He studied the organ with Marcel Dupré, under whose direction he took first prize for Organ and Improvisation in 1939.

His short career as a composer began in 1929, when Alain was 18, and lasted 10 years. His output was influenced by Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, and an interest in the music, dance and philosophies of the far east.
Alain is best known for his organ music.
Interested in mechanics, Alain was a skilled motorcyclist and became a dispatch rider in the Eighth Motorised Armour Division of the French Army.
On 20 June 1940, he was assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on the eastern side of Saumur, and encountered a group of German soldiers. Coming around a curve, he dropped his motorcycle and engaged the enemy troops with his carbine, killing 16 of them before being killed himself.

He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery, and according to Nicolas Slonimsky, was buried, by the Germans, with full military honors.

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