From the Alexander Boggs Ryan Collection: The Letters of Marcel Dupré and Alexander Boggs Ryan

March 4, 2015

Note: All letters, photos, articles, and other memorabilia used here are from the personal library of Dr. Alexander Boggs Ryan, housed at Trinity Episcopal Church, Longview, Texas, and Kilgore College, Kilgore, Texas. The letters were first publicly presented at the Gregg County Historical Society, Longview, Texas, by David Ford during the 2012 East Texas Pipe Organ Festival. All spelling and punctuation has been retained as found in the original letters.



Marcel Dupré and Alexander Boggs Ryan—By one who knew them both

Marcel Dupré (1886–1971) had many American pupils, notable among whom were Emory Gallup, Carl Weinrich, Clarence Watters, and Dora Poteet. Although the foregoing were better suited to his approach than some others, there is no doubt that Clarence Watters and Dora Poteet were shining examples of his tradition and that they in turn passed this legacy on to their pupils in a way that insured reverence and respect.

Alexander Boggs Ryan (1928–1979) possessed an enviable and, in some ways, unique musical pedigree. Quite apart from his excellent piano background and well before he came to Dupré, he had received the Great Tradition (the Parisian organ school’s “apostolic succession”: Bach to Kittel to Rinck to Hesse to Lemmens to Guilmant & Widor and their pupils) from Dora Poteet Barclay. Helen Hewitt, one of Lynnwood Farnam’s pupils at the Curtis Institute, would become another early influence. (Although Farnam lacked a direct connection to the Parisian organ tradition, he was on intimate terms with many of its great lights. Farnam was in and out of many famous organ lofts and established bonds with Albert Dupré, Henri Mulet, and Charles Tournemire among others. He and the Duprés often met at Claude Johnson’s country house. As is well known, Vierne’s Sixth Symphony is dedicated to him.)

When Boggs arrived in Paris in 1952, Marcel Dupré was in the final years of his professorship at the Conservatoire. In previous decades his organ class included a glittering roll-call of greats, from Olivier Messiaen to Jeanne Demessieux, to name only two. In the immediate post-war period alone there had been, among the women, Françoise Renet, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier, and the fabulous Suzanne Chaisemartin; among the men, Pierre Labric, Jean Costa, and the unforgettable Pierre Cochereau. Beginning in 1954, Dupré would place the organ class in the hands of his faithful Rolande Falcinelli and assume the title of director of that august institution.

Much nonsense has been written and muttered-about concerning the so-called Olympian aloofness of Marcel Dupré but the facts, as well as the testimonies of his pupils, tell a very different story. It is true that the moment he began playing, one felt strongly the presence of an artistic giant—a god of music. In that respect his playing was quite unlike any other of my acquaintance. Privately, he was the most affectionate and loving master that one could possibly imagine, full of fatherly care for every aspect of one’s life and thought. High standards and unremitting work were necessary but he inspired and guided with a unique, genial humor and sweetness.

Boggs, I believe, was an almost ideal subject for study with Dupré. With his superb pianism (very important to the master) and his familiarity with the Parisian organ school, he was able to imbibe the maximum benefit from study in Meudon. Boggs’ fine Southern manners would have been appreciated by the Dupré family. In addition, he brought Dupré repertoire that would not have been part of the usual conservatory organ class drill (i.e., the Reubke Sonata). The notoriously miserable organ in the Salle d’Orgue had recently been replaced by a new, electric-action instrument. Dupré was able to provide this venue for Boggs’ début in 1953.

As a fitting coda to his years of study, Boggs earned his DMA at Ann Arbor in 1963. He studied with Helen Hewitt’s classmate, Robert Noehren, another member of Farnam’s celebrated Curtis organ class.* Marilyn Mason was also an influence, with her connection to Palmer Christian, a sometime pupil of both Straube and Guilmant.

Alexander Boggs Ryan had an acute sense that this great cloud of witnesses had contributed in many and various ways to his musical footprint. In my opinion, his best years as a player were, roughly speaking, a ten-year period from 1954 to 1964. Everything that he played seemed to contain a leading soprano line and cantabile legato, including Reger, a composer that benefited greatly from his relaxed, lyric approach. 

—Karl Watson

Staten Island, New York 


*In the years before his early death, Lynnwood Farnam taught the first organ class at the then newly founded Curtis Institute of Music. The members of the class were Lawrence Apgar, Robert Cato, Helen Hewitt, Alexander McCurdy, Robert Noehren, and Carl Weinrich. 




PARIS, le 22 February 1955




I have pleasure to state that Mr. Alexander Boggs Ryan who has studied organ with me during a year has proved a most interesting and satisfactory student. Through steady and intelligent work he has made continued progress. He has a fine brilliant technique and undeniable musical gifts.

He has been through an exhaustive repertory of classical and modern works with me and given a fine organ recital which has won him applause in the organ hall of the National Conservatory of music in Paris. Serious and earnest in his work, of perfect good-breeding, I am confident he will fulfil with distinction any post he may be entrusted with.

(signed) Marcel Dupré





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

November 12th 1961

My dear friend,

I returned from concerts in Germany last night and found your good letter for which many thanks. I was glad to hear your news about your work and activities.

I am sending you the photos dedicated. When I have a little time, I will look up whether I have the signature of Philipp and Widor, but I am leaving to-night for a concert tour in England and have still much work on hand.

The concert for Liszt’s commemoration was not a recital, but a concert with orchestra at Palais de Chaillot. Two transcriptions of mine for organ and orchestra were performed, with myself at the organ and the Pasdeloup orchestra: Fantasy on “ad nos” and the transcription of the piano work “St. Francois de Paule marchant sur les flots.” Both had a great success.

Yes, the long-playing record of Dora Poteet was sent to me. Her death has been a great sorrow for us. She was such a remarkable artist and a fine woman.

I also have the photo taken at St. Sulpice with Widor, Philipp and myself, but thank you all the same for your
kind thought.

I certainly was most happy about the wonderful reception I had in Detroit and it was so good to see again so many old students such as yourself and so many friends who had come from quite a distance.

With affectionate thoughts from Madame Dupré and myself and best wishes for continued success,

Yours ever,

(signed) Marcel Dupré





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

March 27, 1962

My dear friend,

Many thanks for your letter. It was kind of you to write about the article on Alexandre Guilmant.

Thanks for the interesting programs you sent me and for the French program for your third recital.

I congratulate you on your recent fine appointment at Western Michigan University and am very happy to see that your hard work and talent are being acknowledged. I shall always be interested in the progress of your musical career.

The centenary of the organ of Saint-Sulpice will be commemorated on May 3rd. It was dedicated on April 29, 1862 by César Franck, Guilmant and Saint-Saens. So, I shall play some of their music, also my Passion-Symphony etc. The organ is always magnificent.

With warmest regards,


(signed) Marcel Dupré





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

April 25, 1962

My dear friend,

Many thanks for your kind letter, for the interesting programs you gave in New-York and for the photo at the organ in Detroit. I am returning the other two which I have inscribed according to your wish.

With every good wish,


(signed) Marcel Dupré


P. S. In 1956, I recorded several works for the Westminster Co. on the St. Sulpice organ, among which my “Stations of the Cross.” I know the Company has had financial difficulties, and I have, of course, never got any royalties, but this is not what I am concerned about. I have written to them to inquire whether my “Stations of the Cross” were available, but they never replied. The recording of that big work means a lot to me and I should be more than sorry if my work came to nothing.

Do you know anything about it or could you kindly make some inquiries? Many thanks in advance.





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

May 10th 1962

My dear friend,

Many thanks for your letters and for the information about the Westminster Co. and their successor. I am writing to them.

How kind of you to have got my “Stations of the Cross” as a gift to me. I shall let you know when the record comes. I have the two other records.

I am sending you the program of the St. Sulpice organ centenary. The concert was a tremendous success. Thousands packed the church and the organ sounded more gloriously than ever.

Concerning the rebuild of Notre-Dame, the rebuild is not completed yet. The new console has been connected with the organ, but the combinations are not ready yet, nor the new stops. So, at the present moment, but for the new console, the organ is as it was.

As for Saint-Sulpice, I keep my own beautiful console and organ as they are, as they were when I started playing there as Widor’s assistant over fifty years ago.

I am sorry not to be able to send you a program of the bi-centennial of Liszt, but I have none left.

With kindest regards and best wishes,

Yours cordially,

(signed) Marcel Dupré





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

October 14, 1962

My dear friend,

I am just back from Holland, where I gave four recitals during the week and find your letter, for which I thank you. I am delighted to hear you are doing so well both in your teaching and concerts. Thanks for the interesting clippings you sent.

I am glad to hear you will play at Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago during Lent. Such a magnificent organ! I shall think of you playing my “Stations.”

As regards the Variations of the Symphonie Gothique, it was Widor’s wish that one of them, the Canon in trio form, should be omitted. He considered it as too scholastic, so I always complied with his wish.

When I write to Marriott, I will certainly put in a good word about you.

You inquire about my activities? The next will be the performance of my Oratorio, “La France au Calvaire,” for choir, soloists, organ and orchestra, at Palais de Chaillot on November 4th at the Pasdeloup concerts.

Then I am leaving for Switzerland on November 10th. I have another busy year ahead. A new organ work of mine will be released this month.

We both keep in the best of health.

With every good wish,


(signed) Marcel Dupré




Tuesday, 12 February 1963

Dear M. Dupré:

This is my first communication to you in 1963, and I trust that this finds you and Mme. Dupré feeling well and busily engaged in activities that you both love so much.

We have had a terrible winter so far: much more snow than in former record years. I’m not used to it, of course, originating from Texas, but am confronted with the facts at hand.

I hope to finish my Doctorate at the University of Michigan by June. I’m working on my third and final recital, which will be all French. It includes some of your “Stations” as well as your “Noel Variations.” In addition, I’m preparing a document on all three recitals, which will contain program notes and an analysis of some 30 works.

Is M. Legouix (the second-hand music dealer) still alive? The reason I ask is that, when I studied with you ten years ago, I bought a considerable amount of music from him in rare editions—mostly German publications that had long been out of print. At that time I studied the Reubke “Sonata” with you, which I performed at the Conservatoire. I tried to locate an “original” of that work, originally published by J. Schuberth & Co., Leipzig. This organ-work was not among Legouix’s holdings at the time, although he promised to get me a copy. I have never heard from him since.

Now, the point is this: I would like, if possible, to get these compositions from Legouix. They are all works by Julius Reubke, and would be helpful in the preparation of my document. They include piano works, also. They are the following, and I’d appreciate your giving M. Legouix a call on the phone in order that he might make some inquiries for me. For this favor, I’d be
most appreciative:

Titles, as they appear in German:

Organ: 1) Sonate in c moll. Der 94ste Psalm. J. Schuberth

Piano: 2) Sonate in c moll. Der 94ste Psalm. Edition Cotta

(transcribed for piano by August Stradal, Stuttgart, 1926)

Piano: 3) Sonate in B moll. J. Schuberth

Piano: 4) Scherzo (not certain of publisher, probably J. Schuberth)

The above enumeration indicates one copy of each, as to get will take some work on the part of M. Legouix.

Cher maître, I realize that you are a busy man. If you do not have time to attend to this for me, just send me the address of M. Legouix. I don’t have it, or would write to him direct.

Am off for recitals in Chicago, Wichita (Kansas), Columbus (Ohio), and New York City during March and April. Wish me luck.


(signed) Alexander Boggs Ryan


P. S. I forgot to tell you. My information states that Stradal also made an organ edition of the Reubke “Sonata,” in which he made some corrections (notes) indicated by Liszt. This was also Edition Cotta, and I’m interested in this, too. So tell Legouix about it. Thanks.





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

March 18th, 1963

My dear friend,

I apologize for this belated answer to your letter, but we have been away a good deal.

We found Legouix address, which is:



Madame Dupré called at the shop this afternoon and was received by Madame Legouix from whom she heard that her husband died seven years ago accidentally. But she is carrying on his work with some help. She could not tell me whether she had the works you ask for, but is going to make some research and let me know. She took my phone number and has your list of works in hand.

So, as soon as I have some news, I will let you know.

Cordially yours,

(signed) Marcel Dupré





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

October 2, 1963

My dear friend,

As soon as your letter of August 7 arrived I wrote to Madame Legouix saying you had never heard from her and asking whether she had been able to find any of the rare editions you wanted.

Her reply to my letter came yesterday only. (She may have been away during the summer vacation.) A very short reply it was as you may see, at the back of the first letter you wrote in February. (“With my apologies for not finding this.” L. Legouix) I am sorry it will prove disappointing for you.

Our most sincere congratulations on your Doctor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

We were shocked to hear about Parvin Titus’ terrible accident but were somewhat relieved when we were told recently by Mr. Cunkle, the editor of “The Diapason,” that he was getting better. But his poor wife!

With affectionate regards from both,

(signed) J. Dupré




December 3, 1963

M. and Mme. Marcel Dupré

40, Boulevard Anatole France

Meudon, S.- et - O.


My dear friends :

It is with a sense of extreme regret that I have just read of the passing of your daughter, Marguerite, on October 26, 1963. I had no idea that she had been desperately ill, and there was no indication of this in Mme. Dupré’s letter of early October.

Herefore, please accept my sincerest sympathies in this your hour of extreme sorrow. Please convey to Marguerite’s husband and her children my heartfelt shock upon receiving this news.

I am looking forward to seeing you next summer, as I contemplate my first trip to Europe in ten years.

Very sincerely,

Dr. Alexander Boggs Ryan

Chairman of the Organ Dept.

Assistant Professor of Music

Western Michigan University



P. S. In as much as Marguerite and the late Dora Poteet Barclay were close friends some twenty-five years ago, I shall inform Dora’s husband of this tragedy; for surely he will want to write to you.





MEUDON (S. &-O.)

OBS. 14-45

January 6, 1964

Dear friend,

Many thanks for your letter of sympathy in our great sorrow. We are heart-broken, for our beloved Marguerite always filled our lives with happiness. Life will never be the same again for us. But we have to go on for the dear children she has left us.

Mr. Dupré is very courageous, though, and has resumed all his duties. Music helps us and I am always looking forward to St. Sulpice on Sundays.

We are going next week to Frankfurt, where a group of organists is to give a concert of M. Dupré’s works, and the day before, he will be giving a recital of French music.

We have read the programs you sent us with great interest, always touched about your devotion to your master’s music.

Affectionately Yours,

J. Dupré




Mr. & Mme. Marcel Dupré



MEUDON (S. &-O.)

Telephone 14-45


Undated handwritten notecard

Dear friend,

Many thanks for your nice card and for the interesting press notices. We are happy to know your concerts are so successful. We both keep well and Mr. Dupré is as busy as ever with concert playing, composition and teaching. He has made some new recordings for Philips recently—a disc of Bach Chorales.







Friday 23 July 1971

My dear friend,

Your letter reached me this morning and I was profoundly moved by all you wrote from your heart. Yes, I have received letters and telegrams by hundreds from all over the world and am far from having answered them all. But yours, which came apart, gets this returned answer.

The sudden passing away of my beloved husband was a terrible shock. On Whit-Sunday, May 30th, he was playing his two masses at St. Sulpice, ending at 12 o’clock with an improvisation on the Easter Alleluia which a friend had requested, and a few hours later, at the end of the afternoon, all was over. After St. Sulpice, we had driven back home, had a quiet lunch together, then he read his Sunday paper and said suddenly: “I feel a little cold; I am going to lie down on my bed.” Shortly after, he lost consciousness and passed without any pain. When the Doctors arrived, there was nothing to be done; rupture of abdominal aneurism.

I am heart-broken. After our many years spent together in such close union, the loss of that wonderful companion, so great, but so simple, so kind, so loving is so hard to bear. 

But I thank God for his peaceful end, a blessing for him, this end he deserved after his great life of devotion to his art, to his students, to his friends, and his humanity. Everybody loved him. 

I try to get some strength from so many happy memories of our life, particularly from the very last ones. On April 22, he played for the last time in London, at the Albert Hall for the celebration of the centenary of the Hall in which he had given his first concert abroad in a concert hall fifty years before, in December 1920. He had such an ovation from the impressive crowd: 7000 people. We were both deeply moved. I am sorry I have no programs of the Albert Hall.

Then for his 85th birthday, there was a most moving evening at St. Sulpice: his oratorio “De Profundis” was sung during the first hour, then a big group of his former pupils at the Conservatoire where he had taught for 28 years, gathered around him in the centre of the church; Messiaen, Langlais, Cochereau, Mme. Durufle, etc., etc., read beautiful tributes before him.

A week later, on May 13th, Rolande Falcinelli who succeeded him as the head of the organ class when he was appointed Director of the Conservatoire gave a recital with his 2nd Symphony and he concluded the recital by a great improvisation.

The funeral took place at St. Sulpice on June 3rd, in the packed church. The service was so beautiful, with the Requiem Gregorian Mass which I had requested.

He was buried in our little cemetery in Meudon, a few minutes from our home, with our darling Marguerite. We both used to go to her grave every day. Now I go alone until I join them.

Marguerite was our only child. The girl you saw at the concert last year was a cousin from Rouen.

Now, I am trying to be courageous for my three grandchildren, all three students and who still need me. They are sweet kids and their grandfather loved them so.

With many thanks for your sympathy,

Sadly Yours,

J. Marcel-Dupré


P. S. I don’t get The Diapason and would be so grateful if you would send me a clipping of the article.




French Institute

(Institut de France)

Academy of Arts

(Académie des Beaux-Arts)

Funeral of Marcel Dupré,

Member of the Musical Composition division,

held in St. Sulpice Church

Paris, 3rd June 1971.




M. Jacques Carlu,

President of the Académie des Beaux-Arts


M. Emmanuel Bondeville,

Permanent Secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts




Institute publication

Printers to the Institute:

1971 No. 13

Firmin-Didot & Co.

Rue Jacob 56.




M. Jacques Carlu

President of the Académie des Beaux-Arts


My dear colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with deep emotion that I come here today, bringing in the name of the whole Académie des Beaux-Arts, a last farewell to our illustrious colleague and friend Marcel Dupré, who has been taken away so suddenly from the affectionate companionship of his family and his countless disciples and admirers.

On this sad day, it is not only the French Institute and our society which shares your mourning, Madame, but also the whole world of music or as one can truly put it, all the musicians in the world, for, in the unanimous opinion of his peers, Marcel Dupré must be classed in the first rank among musicians, composers and organists of all time.

Member of the music division of the Académie des Beaux-Arts 15 years, he was one of the most remarkable figures in its long history.

Without any doubt Dupré was a great artist, as his whole life and career bear witness, and his immense musical output will presently be described for us by his lifelong friend and companion, and fellow native of Rouen, our permanent secretary, the musician Emmanuel Bondeville, with all his wide knowledge and the brotherly affection he felt for the musician who has passed away.

But one didn’t have to be a musician to admire Marcel Dupré, for although not everyone is gifted with a good ear, you only needed to have a heart in order to love the man.

For among all those who in many countries have drawn near to Marcel Dupré, is there a single one who could forget the man, the friend, or the master? He was so innately good and infinitely gracious, always ready to share the fruits of his experience and his immense talent.

Whatever the circumstances he could never be selfish or insensible—his natural and unvarying kindliness would not allow it. So the great artist Marcel Dupré was surrounded by much admiration and loving respect among all the circles he frequented.

Rarely can France have possessed a better ambassador for the art and culture of our country, hence the warmth of the welcome which greeted him on his numerous tours abroad, especially in the United States.

Happily he is not dead altogether since a large part of himself will never pass away. Then Death, where is thy victory? For he will pass through this supreme test and emerge still greater; and the glorious reputation which he leaves us is as the sun shining from the world beyond the grave.

Thinking of the life of the soul in the kingdom of shade which is now his, where is the new Paul Valery who can describe for us in the style of “Eupalinos” the fascinating discussions which Marcel Dupré will be able to have with his well-loved J. S. Bach, and with all the giants of music whom he will meet in the Elysian Fields.

For us, it remains to measure the enormous void created by the disappearance of our dear and illustrious colleague. One can succeed to the post of a Marcel Dupré, but one can never replace him.

In this day of sadness, Madame, may I express to you and your children the deep and sorrowing sympathy felt by the members of the Academy of Arts, all of whom share your grief. But as the great Christian orator Massillon, who belonged to the Academy more than two centuries ago and whose statue stands before us in this Square of Saint-Sulpice, said in one of his famous sermons: “the feelings which a sudden death arouse in our hearts are feelings of a day of grief, as though death itself was a matter of a single day.”

Dear Marcel Dupré, our friend and colleague, you rest assured that our grief will be unending.



pronounced by


Permanent Secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts


My dear Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

How can one call to mind the great figure of Marcel Dupré without recapitulating the main stages of the career which marked his astonishing and ineluctable ascendance?

He had this great privilege of the strong, of following with sureness the ordained path, climbing it with firm undeviating steps, and reaching the higher summits by an unbroken ascending curve.

He always remained close to his roots. The rue du Vert-Buisson, at Rouen, was an excellent musical centre. The province and regions provide generous facilities for the arts, for study, practice, and the faith which gives life meaning and nobility.

Albert Dupré, the organist of St. Ouen, which possesses one of the finest organs in France, used to run a choral society “Perfect Harmony” (L’Accord Parfait), which enabled the music-lovers of Rouen to become familiar with the masterpieces of music, notably the great works of Bach. His wife, Alice Dupré, a cellist, possessed a lively musical intelligence.

In such a home, an exceptionally gifted child found the most favourable climate possible for the flowering of his talents. Without having frequented that blessed dwelling, called simply “le Vert-Buisson” (the green bush)—the name of the street—by the people of Rouen, one could not possibly assess how much ardour, hard work, and faith, the love of a difficult art can muster in order to achieve the most important objectives, which are to arouse curiosity, to consolidate knowledge, and to create enthusiasm.

For his enlightened parents applied the utmost care in nourishing the talent of Marcel Dupré, which declared itself early. At the age of twelve, he performed the opening recital on the organ at the church of St. Vivien. He soon became a living legend for the young musicians of the town. My mother was always talking to me about him, with the ardour of an admiring music-lover, who hoped to inspire her young offspring at an early age with sound reasons for working, hoping, and admiring in his turn.

These reasons quickly multiplied. Recitals succeeded one another, keeping always the same high standard of perfection. Prizes accumulated, marking the fruits of a complete musical training, including as they did prizes for performance on the piano and the organ, and the Grand Prix de Rome for composition. At the same time, to hear Marcel Dupré praising the teaching of Guilmant and Widor, was a lesson in their contribution to music, but it was also a lesson in modesty, a spiritual quality which this great man never forsook.

In spite of these successes, which gave as much pleasure to those who loved him as they did to himself, an even higher summit was to be reached in 1920, when Marcel Dupré played in ten recitals the whole of the organ works of John Sebastian Bach, from memory.

This wasn’t merely a feat of stupendous prowess, but a manifestation of something even greater, for Marcel Dupré had performed these recitals with the meticulous care which he insisted on applying to every act, whether of interpretation or of creation. “Do you know,” said his father one day to me, “that before giving these recitals, Marcel consulted all the editions, and all the available manuscripts of the works of Bach, particularly those in the Berlin library?”

The news of these concerts was to spread like lightning. One of the most impressive figures of the art of sound had revealed himself.

At the same time, Marcel Dupré brought the art of improvisation to an undreamt of level of proficiency. Here, too, there was no room for mere facility. A rigorous mastery led to fullness of expression. Each work revealed the fathomless resources offered by a simple theme, but instead of this result being achieved by patient work at the desk, the edifice of sound sprang forth from an act of spontaneous creation.

It is true that the act of improvisation had had some impressive exponents. César Franck had made an unforgettable impression on those who heard his improvisations on the organ at St. Clothilde during the Magnificat.

Dupré’s teacher, Widor, was equally admired. But his pupil’s contribution gave the king of instruments a still greater primacy. Alone of instruments, the organ enables a single player to build a whole cathedral of sound on the spot, using a variety of tone colours to rival the orchestra. As he unceasingly developed his talent, Marcel Dupré attained a breadth of expression hitherto unknown.

His tours of America began at that time, and soon set the seal on his reputation as the premier French organist; he amazed his transatlantic audience by improvising a complete symphony in four movements for the first time in the history of organ music.

He knew fame. This manifested itself in many ways, sometimes the most unexpected and simple ways, which were all the more moving, like the time when a young Australian came to work in my family and asked, on her arrival, “Where can one hear the organist Marcel Dupré?”

The composer didn’t relinquish his work. Rarely can the improviser and the composer have been so perfectly matched as in the person of Marcel Dupré, for his spontaneous impulses, like his reflective and poignant meditations, were as perfect as the written composition.

To list his works, which ranged from the instrumental solo to the lyrical fresco, would take up the whole of this speech. In any case there is available for reference the very thorough bibliographical study by his learned pupil, Canon Robert Delestre. But, to continue along our path in the company of the Master, we can halt at the Preludes and Fugues, which, composed as early as 1912, represent an astonishing enrichment of organ technique.

Speaking of these works, Marcel Dupré, the innovator, fully master of his bold strokes of composition, said “All I did was to follow Bach’s example . . . There’s no place for academicism in fugue, whatever one may think.”

In subsequent works, the “Suite Bretonne,” the “Symphonie-Passion,” the “Chemin de la Croix,” he went on to develop more fully this rich style of composition, to cite a few examples, for his extremely orderly mind yet found room for bold experiment. A short time ago, reading through scores by young composers, he showed me the interest which lay in examining new techniques by listening for their structure, their quest for new sounds.

Very early, the main lines of his life were set. With what mastery he mapped out his route! He was never to deviate from the chosen path: he embellished it continually.

The former pupil of Diemer, of Guilmant, and of Widor was to become Professor of Organ at the Conservatoire and Director of the illustrious institution.

What were his merits as a teacher? We have no need to enumerate them. On the 7th May last, at St. Sulpice, after hearing his “De Profundis,” his former pupils paid him homage and their famous names show that the continuity of his work and mission are assured.

A few weeks ago, he went back to Rouen and visited again the house of his parents, “le Vert Buisson,” and played the organ at St Ouen.

The world’s most glittering successes had never altered his affection for those he always revered, his family. He always spoke of them with moving tenderness.

He was so discreet and secret in his inmost thoughts that, in order to know him well, one had to be favoured with his affection. How his face shone when he spoke of his family. He expressed himself then with a contained warmth which was stronger than loud bursts of sound, for this master of sound was also master of his heart. When he gave his affection, how comforting was his welcome! Whether it was in his joyful home at Saint-Valery-en-Caux or the great organ room at Meudon, his arms were wide open to welcome those who in their turn followed the same path. They knew, of course, that a superior being was receiving them. 

The rarest gifts were magnified by an uncompromising conscience, and a strict application to work, so as to achieve a constant elevation of talent and thought. Those of us who have sat next to him on the organ bench at St. Sulpice know what is genius.

His finest praise was spoken by his former pupil, now famous, Olivier Messiaen, who, speaking of his master, Marcel Dupré, called him “the modern Liszt.”

Liszt, the noblest figure in the history of music, a generous spirit and a discoverer of new sounds—he combined a stupendous virtuosity with compositions which broke new ground in their development of the resources of music. Let us keep in our minds this brief and complete tribute.

When his admirers mourn him all over the world, you, Madame, who have been his attentive and so much loved partner in life, will receive the greatest comfort from his hands. You know that his name will remain what he made it—that of one of the greatest of men.




May 26, 1972

Dear friend,

Many thanks for your good letter from Hamburg. I will be happy to see you during your short visit in Paris.

Will you come to Meudon on Monday May 29, about 3 p. m. You have got a train from Montparnasse station at 2:51 p.m.

Nearly a year has elapsed since my beloved husband left us. This month of May with all its last-memories of our life is so sad!

With affectionate wishes,

J. Marcel Dupré


Special thanks to Linda Ryan Thomas; to Trinity Episcopal Church, Longview, Texas, Bill Bane, organist-choirmaster; and to Kilgore College, Kilgore, Texas, Dr. William Holda, president, and Jeanne Johnson, chair of music and dance, for allowing access to Alexander Boggs Ryan’s complete personal library, and for granting permission to reprint these letters and memorabilia.

Lorenz Maycher is organist-choirmaster at First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore, Texas, and founding director of the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival. He is a frequent contributor to The Diapason, which has published his interviews with Thomas Richner, William Teague, Nora Williams, Albert Russell, and Robert Town, as well as his series of articles “From the Clarence Dickinson Collection.” Maycher is also director of the Vermont Organ Academy, a website promoting articles and recordings devoted to the Aeolian-Skinner legacy.

Karl Watson was a pupil of Alexander McCurdy at the Curtis Institute and, during 1970, of Marcel Dupré in Meudon. He has served both Protestant and Catholic churches on the East Coast. 

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