Jean Langlais remembered

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A cura di Marie-Louise Langlais

Una nuova biografia di Jean Langlais (nel 25° della morte)

Nel 25° della morte:


una nuova monografia (in lingua inglese) a cura di Marie Louise Langlais

Prefazione di James David Christie

Riportiamo qui in calce in anteprima la prefazione di Christie e l’introduzione dell’autrice, nonché l’indice del volume.

Breve profilo biografico di Jean Langlais


§ § §

Marie-Louise Langlais



List of illustrations page 3
Foreword by James David Christie 6
Preface 8
Acknowledgements 12
Chapter 1 Childhood and Early Education (1907-1930) 14
Chapter 2 Years of Improvement (1930-1935) 45
Chapter 3 The End of the Thirties (1935-1939) 74
Chapter 4 World War II (1939-1945) 99
Chapter 5 Professional Recognition (1945-1951) 122
Chapter 6 The First American Tour, 1952 157
Chapter 7 A Sacred Triptych, First Recordings 178
Chapter 8 American Tours in the Fifties 198
Chapter 9 The Upheavals of the Sixties 226
Chapter 10 Trials and Joys (1970-1984) 262
Chapter 11 The Last Years (1984-1991) 297
Chronological Catalog 321

1. Saint-Samson Church in La Fontenelle and its « Calvaire » page 15
2. Birthplace of Jean Langlais in La Fontenelle 15
3. Jean and Flavie Langlais, 1906 16
4. Jean Langlais at age two 17
5. Jean Langlais, his mother and sister Flavie, 1916 20
6. The National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris 22
7. Albert Mahaut playing the Cavaillé-Coll organ at the National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris 28
8. Jean Langlais at age 12, in the Institute’s uniform, with his sister Flavie 29
9. André Marchal at the Saint-Germain-des-Prés organ 31
10. Jean Langlais at age 18 (passport photograph) 32
11. Marcel Dupré at his Meudon house organ 33
12. Dupré’s 1928-1929 organ class 41
13. Dupré’s 1929-1930 organ class 43
14. Charles Tournemire improvising on plainchant at the console of Sainte-Clotilde 48
15. Original letter from Olivier Messiaen to Jean Langlais, September 17, 1931 54
16. First photograph of Messiaen at the organ of La Trinité, Paris, 1931 54
17. Concert at the home of Suzanne Flersheim, June 29, 1933 60
18. The Barker-Merklin organ at Saint-Pierre-de-Montrouge 63
19. Paul Dukas’ composition class, 1934 65
20. Photograph of Charles Tournemire dedicated to Jean Langlais, May 1935 71
21. Church bell tower of Escalquens 80
22. Program from the premiere of Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur 84
23. Canon Verdrie, curé of Sainte-Clotilde (1914-1946) 101
24. Jean Langlais, 1941 105
25. Jean Langlais in concert on the Cavaillé-Coll/Gonzalez organ at the Trocadéro, June 27, 1943 108
26. The Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, 1857 121
27. Canon Henry Hubert, curé of Sainte-Clotilde (1946-1968) 123
28. The church of La Madeleine in the Fifties 124
29. The basilica of Sainte-Clotilde in the Fifties 124
30. The Sainte-Clotilde organ case 125
31. César Franck at the console of Sainte-Clotilde, 1888 127
32. First photograph of Jean Langlais at the console of Sainte-Clotilde, 1945 129
33. Jean Langlais, 1941 133
34. Jean Langlais leaves Paris by train for Le Havre, April 11, 1952 163
35. Jean and Jeannette Langlais at the console of Central Presbyterian Church, New-York, 1952, 166
36. Jean Langlais, first American tour, 1952 177
37. Jean Langlais and Jeannine Collard 181
38. Jean Langlais at the console of Sainte-Clotilde, 1953 184
39. Jeannette, Jean, Claude and Janine Langlais at Claude’s solemn Communion 189
40. Improvisation theme given by Benjamin Britten to Jean Langlais at the Royal Festival Hall, London, February 19, 1958 - 197
41. Theodore Marier conducting the American premiere of Langlais’ Messe Solennelle 203
at Boston Symphony Hall, March 27, 1954; the composer at the organ
42. Departure for the USA, 1956 concert tour 208
43. Jean Langlais with his portable keyboard 211
44. Jean Langlais at the end of his 1959 American tour 220
45. Thérèse Chopy-Franck and Jean Langlais at Sainte-Clotilde, May 25, 1958 242
46. Jean Langlais at the 1962 new console of Sainte-Clotilde, 1965 243
47. Jean Langlais’ Schwenkedel house organ, 1960 250
48. Concert hall of the Schola Cantorum, 1902 Mutin/Cavaillé-Coll organ 252
49. Jean Langlais organ class at the Schola Cantorum, 1966 253
50. Boystown Liturgical Music Workshop, 1961 255
51. Archbishop Bergan presents Jean Langlais with the medal of Saint Cecilia 255
52. Masterclass at Winthrop College, March 5, 1959 257
53. Messiaen decorates Jean Langlais for Officier de la Légion d’Honneur, October 20, 1968 261
54. Jean Langlais receives an honorary doctorate from Chancellor Moudy at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas - 279
55. Jean Langlais, 70 years old, at the console of Sainte-Clotilde 284
56. Jean and Marie-Louise Langlais playing the « Double Fantaisie » (Mosaïque 1), USA, September 1981 - 292
57. Cathedral of Dol-de-Bretagne 297
58. Olivier Messiaen and Jean Langlais at Sainte-Clotilde, May 24, 1986 307
59. Jean, Marie-Louise and Caroline Langlais at La Madeleine, February 1, 1987 309
60. Marie-Claire Alain and Jean Langlais, Schola Cantorum, April 1989 313
61. Jean Langlais with his dog, Scherzo, La Richardais, April 1991 315
62. Sculpture by Pierre Manoli on Jean and Jeannette Langlais’ grave in the cemetery of Escalquens - 316
63. Jean Langlais, Marbella, Spain, 1977 326
64. Marie-Louise Langlais, Paris, 2007 327
* * *

My first introduction to the music of Jean Langlais was in 1964 at the Cathedral of Saint
Joseph the Workman in La Crosse, Wisconsin, an impressive new neo-Gothic building with
eight seconds of reverberation. The cathedral was finished and consecrated in 1963.
I was 11 years old and a member of the newly formed Cathedral boy choir when we
welcomed our bishop and an entourage of about 100 priests, Brother of Saint Pius X, Knights
of Columbus, Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre and other dignitaries into the
cathedral for a Pontifical mass with Langlais’ Saceredos et Pontifex, Op. 109, composed for
unison choir, trumpets and organ. For the dedication of the cathedral, the bishop ordered
four long hearlding trumpets and these were used for the very long procession that lasted
almost fifteen minutes – the work was sung through twice.
This imposing work had been composed in 1959 to honor the Archbishop of Omaha, the
Most Reverend Gerald T. Bergan, and was premiered in Boys Town, Nebraska, in the
archbishop’s presence at the 1961 Boys Town Summer Liturgical Workshop. The influence of
Langlais at the Boys Town workshops had a profound effect on Roman Catholic sacred music
around the United States and his music became extremely popular. Langlais was also one of
the most highly esteemed French concert organists. He was especially revered for his
extraordinary improvisations.
The impressive organ part of Saceredos et Pontifex, with its neo-medieval harmonies and
modality, stirred my soul as a young child of 11 years old and it was from that moment I knew
what my future would be.
Only one year later, I had the great fortune to begin my first serious organ studies with a
master organist-teacher, Byron L. Blackmore, a former student of André Marchal and Arthur
Poister who had just moved to La Crosse and became the first musician to ever be employed
as a full-time church musician in the city. Prof. Blackmore was very devoted to the music of
Langlais and performed his music regularly. Thanks to him, I was able to study more than 25
major works of Langlais and hear an amazing amount of Langlais’ music in concert before I
turned 18. In 1965, I was appointed one of the three organists at the La Crosse Cathedral by
Msgr. Joseph Kundinger. I regularly performed Langlais’ music for the 6-10 weekly masses I
was assigned.
To this day, I credit Jean Langlais with my decision to become an organist.
I never lost my love for his music and I have continued to faithfully perform, teach and
promote it throughout my entire career. I had the great fortune to spend much time with
Langlais in 1973-1974 when I was living in Paris and studying with his close friend, Marie-
Claire Alain. I attended Sunday services at Sainte-Clotilde very often and took some private
lessons at Langlais’ home on the rue Duroc. Our friendship continued until his death.
I am extremely grateful to Marie-Louise Langlais for all she has done during her entire
career to keep her husband’s name before the public.
Mme. Langlais’ first book, Ombre et Lumière, is an extraordinary reference and a ’must have’
for anyone who is serious about the composer’s life and music. It is available only in French
and it is a masterpiece.
Because of Langlais’ great devotion and gratitude to his American public, Mme. Langlais
decided to write a new book in English and make it available for free on the Internet to
commemorate the 25th anniversary year of his death. This book was written over seven years
and was a labor of love in honor of her late husband and their American public. I would like
to express our gratitude to her for this extraordinary gift to us.
This foreword was written in Paris on the day Langlais’ beloved daughter, Caroline
Langlais-de Salins, gave birth to her son, Jean Langlais’ grandson, Félix (February 8, 2016).
We can imagine that Jean Langlais is smiling and looking down from heaven with pride and

James David Christie
* * *


In the aftermath of the death of Jean Langlais on May 8, 1991, the French daily newspaper
Le Monde published an obituary on May 15, 1991, stating conclusively, "...his organ pieces,
skillfully composed, have overshadowed the rest of his production." This summary judgment
spurred me to ask:
Would the writer reduce his entire oeuvre simply to his organ works?
Will Langlais leave a broader mark on 20th century music?
Was he an innovator or a follower?
This book was written to try to answer these questions.
It is now 2016, and the choice to publish this work on the Internet rather than as a printed
book, as tradition would dictate, was quickly made. This text, offered as open access,
addresses the widest possible audience. The most influential language in the world today is
English, so it seemed essential that it be published in this language. Conceived and written in
French, my native language, it was translated by four American translators, Bruce Gustafson,
Arthur Lawrence, Ross Wood and Shirley Parry, listed in the order of their involvement.
Without them, nothing would have been possible.
And so that readers can fully benefit from this online version, 64 photographs, some in
color, have been included in the text. Jean Langlais would certainly have embraced this
contemporary medium of distribution…he, who loved to keep up with the times.
Born February 15, 1907, at the beginning of the 20th century, Jean Langlais died 25 years
ago, May 8, 1991, at the age of 84. Together with him, their deaths just before or just after
his, these last of the "sacred monsters" of French organ music of the 20th century were gone:
Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), Gaston Litaize (1909-1991), and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992).
One of their glorious brothers, Jehan Alain, born in 1911, had died much earlier, cut down
by the war in 1940 at the age of 29. Duruflé, Langlais, Messiaen, Litaize and Alain were all
Paris Conservatory prize winners and had in common some of the same prestigious teachers:
Paul Dukas in composition (Duruflé, Messiaen, Langlais, Alain), Marcel Dupré in organ
(Messiaen, Langlais, Litaize, Alain), and Tournemire in improvisation (Duruflé and Langlais).
Alone among this group, however, Jean Langlais has been very active--30 years, to be
precise--in the United States. Between 1952 and 1981 he gave some 300 concerts and master
classes there. From the end of World War II, his works were published by American
publishers H. W. Gray, Belwin Mills, Elkan-Vogel, McLaughlin & Reilly, H.T. FitzSimons,
Theodore Presser and Fred Bock. This book retraces his life in the United States in
Unlike Jehan Alain, who died at age 29, before he could realize the full potential of his
genius, Jean Langlais had ample time to express himself throughout his 62-year career, which
lasted from 1929 to 1991. His more than 250 numbered works spanned all genres: music for
solo instruments (especially the organ, with more than 300 pieces), sacred choral music,
chamber music, symphonic music, and melodies. What is striking at first glance, is the
disparity between the heavy proportion of sacred music (organ, vocal music) and the smaller
number of secular compositions (orchestra, chamber music, melodies). This imbalance was
undoubtedly a consequence of the early success of his organ compositions ("The Nativity,”
the "Te Deum"), which quickly enclosed him in the circle of "organist-composers," just as his
seniors, Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire and Marcel Dupré, had
been. In the 19th and 20th centuries, only the organists César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns
and Olivier Messiaen, whose universal genius no one questions, escaped this restrictive
Jean Langlais’ blindness also limited his creative freedom; he would have liked, he stated, to
compose a ballet or music for a film, but no one sought him out for this, even though he had
successfully illustrated many radio plays after the World War II. Slowly, imperceptibly, his
musical universe was limited to the organ and the church. Was this painful for him? Yes, he
said so many times, but this did not prevent him from admiring unreservedly and without
jealousy the major works for large orchestra by his sighted colleagues Messiaen, Dutilleux or
Langlais’ career falls into three periods. In the first, from the 1930s to the 1950s, his musical
vocabulary is forged, with key elements being a mix of materials such as modality, free or
Gregorian, tonality and chromaticism. The modal-chromatic idiom, with its tonal-chromatic
variant, will thus be his signature during all the pre-war years; his "Te Deum" (1934) for
organ remains the best example of this. The novelty of his message lies not so much in the
language he used, which was traditional, as in his method of assembling and juxtaposing it, in
the way that 20th century painters created collages. Joining together diverse and opposing
elements of different historical origins--this is what he did that was revolutionary.
In the second, post-war period, he was seduced by a certain "neo-classicism." This is the
period of his great "Suites" for organ: Suite brève (1947) and Suite française (1948). He even let
himself be tempted by the "neo-medieval" pastiche in Suite médiévale (1947) and Missa Salve
Regina (1954). His music met with immediate success everywhere.
He could have continued in that style that had done so well for him; however, in a third
and final period extending from the early 1960s until his death in 1991, he preferred to
explore different techniques of the 20th century, such as serialism (Sonate en trio, 1968),
irregular rhythms (Cinq Meditations sur l’Apocalypse, 1974), semi-clusters, atonalism, or
polytonality. This shift toward modernism will be definitive from l’Essai for organ (1961) on.
And even if we notice, starting in the 70s, some flashbacks (Offrande à Marie, Huit Chants de
Bretagne for organ), he is definitely getting “into” modernity, thus disorienting his traditional
audience, who will judge this new language as too advanced, or, on the other hand, as not
advanced enough, especially those who felt that after Messiaen’s Livre d’Orgue (1951), one
could no longer compromise with "neo-classicism" – something of which Langlais was
regularly accused.
Was he subjected to a mock trial? Almost all 20th century musicians, Stravinsky being at
the top of the list, suffered such setbacks at one time or another. A musical revolutionary is
often the one who draws from other sources, like Messiaen, who was fascinated by the
rhythms and percussion of the Far East. Neo-classicism is certainly questionable when it is
slavish imitation. But was that the issue for Langlais? Perhaps it was rather that his attraction
to the past echoed Arthur Honegger’s assertion: “To advance the art, one must be firmly
attached to the past, like the branches of a tree. A branch cut from the trunk quickly dies.”
By changing his style, Jean Langlais condemned himself to creating malcontents of every
stripe. He, whose “modernism” seemed acceptable when the works of Messiaen shocked
people in the 1930s and 1940s, suddenly seemed outdated at the beginning of the 1950s,
when music drew its inspiration from serial concepts and experimental music.
But indifferent to these shifts in opinion, Langlais followed his path without letting himself
be influenced. Gradually, leaving behind orchestral and secular instrumental music, he
increasingly concentrated his energy on the organ, at the moment when the “baroquists”
triggered a kind of devastating cyclone which limited organ music of the time to that of J. S.
Bach. I experienced those years, the 1960s and 1970s, during which César Franck inspired
only amused contempt and during which the organs that Aristide Cavaillé-Coll built seemed
doomed to the artistic trash heap. Undaunted, Langlais played and taught Franck,
Tournemire and Vierne when some of his colleagues did not go beyond Buxtehude,
Couperin or Grigny.
And when, in the 1980s, the 19th century becomes fashionable again, Langlais was roundly
rebuked for electrifying the Cavaillé-Coll of Sainte-Clotilde, an unforgivable crime for those
who saw this organ solely as César Franck’s instrument and who refused to admit it was also
Tournemire’s and Langlais’. In short, Jean Langlais, who had up until then enjoyed in France
very broad approval, found himself the object of all kinds of opposition starting in the 1960s.
However, he still felt free and found a rigidly applied system foreign to him. One day in 1975,
reading a letter that Olivier Messiaen had just sent him after receiving the score for Cinq
Méditations sur l’Apocalypse, Langlais remarked: "Messiaen has discovered a lot of things
(especially Hindu rhythms) that I have found by accident."
This book does not analyze all the works of Jean Langlais, for there is not enough time and
space. I have selected the pieces that I consider essential; they will be presented with some
technical analyses, press reviews and letters from colleagues.
Three different font styles are used in this book. Text in the largest font presents the
biography of Jean Langlais. Reviews, commentary and correspondence appear in a slightly
smaller font. Finally, in a different and still smaller typeface is detailed musical analysis of
individual works. If this latter is deemed too abstract or complicated reading, the reader
should feel free to skip these passages. This eleven-chapter book concludes with the funeral
oration delivered by Msgr. Jehan Revert during the funeral Mass for Jean Langlais at Sainte-
Clotilde on May 30, 1991. Of very high quality, it is both moving and rich in symbolism.
Finally, a chronological catalog of works by Langlais from 1929 to 1990 can be found in a
Jean Langlais was born poor in Brittany, which in the early 20th century was the most
impoverished of French provinces. Blind from the age of 2, he lived through two world wars,
almost dying in 1917 during the first war when he caught the Spanish flu. In Paris he suffered
through the second war, with its privations and cruelty. But thanks to his gifts, to his tenacity
and his optimism, and sustained by an unshakable faith, he knew success in his lifetime. The
triumph of his Missa Salve Regina in 1954 was one of his proudest moments, justifying his
profession of faith: "My best music is that which I have written to the Holy Virgin."
Considered by critics as an "accessible" modern, he was revered. In the following decades,
America took over, and Langlais was then acclaimed from coast to coast, attracting both
audiences and students eager to receive his message and ready to follow him to France. In the
last years of his life, however, he had the impression of being neglected in his own country.
Staying true to harmonic and melodic music, deviating from the Catholic Church’s new
directive concerning religious music while opposing in the strongest terms the triumph of the
baroque, he had much to lose. People wanted to oppose him to Messiaen, Duruflé and Alain.
But to no avail. These musicians complement each other more than they contrast, and the
sum of their talents represents a richness beyond compare in France in the 20th century.
Impervious to all exoticism, Langlais summed himself up: "I am a Catholic Breton.” This
statement expresses everything, from his provincial origins to his religious beliefs. The art of
Jean Langlais is an art of synthesis which, combining languages and aesthetics from different
eras and backgrounds, succeeded in giving new life to timeworn material. This "naif from the
Middle Ages," with a character as rough as his music, was perfectly able to exercise the most
exquisite refinement, as his harmonies testify. He lived his life with passion and enthusiasm,
and his music is in his unique image, full of sound and fury, but also overflowing with poetry
and subtlety. Donning a thousand faces, it spans the 20th century without deviating from its
Will he remain known solely as a composer of sacred music? Perhaps not, as evidenced by
the almost simultaneous recent publication, for the first time, of some of his manuscripts in
diverse genres. These range from melodies (see the Jean Langlais website), to large pieces with
orchestra like his Messe Solennelle (the 1949 version for choir and orchestra, with or without
organ, published by Schola Cantorum (Switzerland) in 2015), to Essai sur l’Evangile de Noël and
the Te Deum of 1934, published under the generic title Diptyque symphonique sacré by Bonnorgue
editions (Germany, 2016), to his 1937 Thème, variations et Final for organ, orchestra and brass,
published by Doblinger (Austria, 2016). All these pieces from the 1930s are being reborn
today, nearly 75 years after their composition. Could this be a sign that sacred music may not
be the single category under which Jean Langlais will be referenced?
…We dare to think so…

Marie-Louise Langlais

* * *


I especially want to thank my translators whose help has been indispensable.
First of all Bruce Gustafson, Charles A. Dana Professor of Music Emeritus at
Franklin and Marshall College, author of over two hundred articles in scholarly
journals and encyclopedias, publications which have been very well reviewed; and
Arthur Lawrence, former organ faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music,
editor of several organ magazines, and author of articles, reviews, and CD booklets.
Both accepted without hesitation the heavy challenge of translating Chapters 1- 6
from French into English. In addition, they carefully researched all the sources which
were not available in France. Their very musicological approach has been
indispensable in shaping the section on the first period of Jean Langlais’ life. They also
met the challenge of translating several poetic, sometimes obscure, and always
complex passages by Olivier Messiaen into readable English.
Chapters 7 - 9 were translated by Ross Wood, an expert in sacred music as well as in
organ repertoire, including the music of Langlais. He has served as associate organist
and choirmaster at Boston’s Church of the Advent from 2001 to 2016. I especially
appreciate his ability to bring to life the direct and unsophisticated personality of Jean
Shirley C. Parry, Ph.D., Professor of English Emerita at Anne Arundel Community
College in Maryland, and a lover of both organ music and French, translated chapters
10 and 11. An experienced editor, she had the responsibility of harmonizing the
translations of all the chapters while maintaining the different “esprits” of the various
translators. This was difficult and delicate work for which I am very grateful.
My very good friend James David Christie, Chair and Professor of organ at the
Oberlin Conservatory of Music, international recitalist all over the world, gave me
unceasing support from the beginning, and with his help, this translation received
support from the Boston chapter of the American Guild of Organist’s Special Projects
Fund. My thanks to him and to the Fund’s coordinator Martin Steinmetz.
John Walker, president of the AGO, has been a close friend since the 1970s. He has
always been present and has been invaluable in arranging contacts with the AGO for
this project. I am delighted that, with his help, the AGO will be able to offer this book
for free to all AGO members.
And, for their tributes, always given without any restrictions, I wish to thank George
C. Baker, Marjorie Bruce, Lynne Davis Firmin-Didot, Douglas Himes, Thomas F.
Kelly, Jan Overduin, Emmet Smith, Kathleen Thomerson, Bishop Pierre W. Whalon,
and French film director Coline Serreau.
Sylvie Mallet brought great patience to the task of transferring and organizing the 63
photographs contained in this book. Richard Powell has been invaluable in transcribing
several of Langlais’ unpublished songs and these editions now figure in the Langlais’
website. Alice Benevise-Germain and Matthieu Germain used their computer expertise
to transform this book unto a pdf document available to everybody.
I am grateful for all the many letters, documents, stories, given by close friends of Jean
Langlais, all dead now, including some of his prestigious teachers. Let me cite many
names particularly dear to Jean Langlais’s heart: Paul Dukas, Olivier Messiaen, Charles
Tournemire, Gaston Litaize, André Bourgoin, Rachel Brunswig, Pierre Denis, Pierre
Lucet, Msgr. Jehan Revert, and, from the United States, Seth Bingham, Catharine
Crozier, Charles Dodsley Walker, John Forshaw, Theodore Marier, Robert Sutherland
Lord, Lilian Murtagh, Father Francis P. Schmitt.
Of course I will not forget the members of Langlais’ family whose help was essential to
his life: his first wife, Jeannette, who copied all his music, his son Claude and daughter
Janine, and, at the end of his life, his second daughter Caroline. Her father died when
she was only ten, but I can testify that she has been the light of his painful last years.

Marie-Louise Langlais


contenuto inserito da: - Segreteria