The American Recital Tours of Jeanne Demessieux

May 31, 2003

Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) was a brilliant French organist, recitalist, and composer. One of a select number of European organists to tour America in the mid-twentieth century, she fascinated audiences with her phenomenal technique. Three transcontinental tours of America in 1953, 1955, and 1958 established Demessieux as one of the greatest products of the modern French organ school.  She demonstrated her skill at improvisation and introduced to American audiences a number of her own compositions and those of other French composers.1

Demessieux's formal musical training began at the age of seven at the Montpellier Conservatory. To facilitate her studies, the Demessieux family moved to Paris in 1932 and one year later Jeanne was admitted into the Paris Conservatory. Demessieux's teachers at the Conservatory included Simon Riera, Magda Tagliafero, and Marcel Dupré. For Demessieux and Dupré an exceptional relationship between teacher and student was born. Dupré instilled in her his pedagogical ideas and created for her a climate in which she could devote herself completely to the art of organ. As a teacher, Demessieux had occasionally substituted for Dupré at the Paris Conservatory. Her first appointment occurred in 1950 when she was nominated to the organ professorship at the Nancy Conservatory. In 1952 she was nominated to and eventually accepted the organ position at the Royal Conservatory in Liège, Belgium. In 1962, following thirty years of service at the church of Saint Esprit, Demessieux became titulaire of La Madeleine, a position she held until her death.

The 1953 American tour

Colbert-LaBerge Concert Management, based in New York City, announced the first transcontinental tour of Jeanne Demessieux in the October, 1952 issue of The Diapason2 and the November, 1952 edition of the American Organist.3 In February and March of 1953, Demessieux made her American début in New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, Oakland, and several other cities. Her first live exposure to the American public occurred on the January 31, 1953, broadcast over WQXR radio and its affiliated stations. In association with the American Guild of Organists, WQXR broadcast a series of recitals from Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Demessieux's program was:

Trumpet Tune  Purcell 

Chorale Prelude: "When We Are in Deepest Need"    Bach

Fugue in G Major (Gigue)            Bach

Pastorale                   Franck

"Dogme" from Seven Meditations


Upon her arrival in the United States an interview in the New York Herald Tribune revealed that after her début recital in New York City, Demessieux would go on a twenty-five-concert tour of the country. She had learned from memory the entire organ literature of Bach, Franck, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Handel, and all but the last two compositions of Dupré, a total of between 1,000 and 2,000 works. Not only was her repertoire vast, but she was so confident in her ability that she left all of her scores in France!5

The American début of Demessieux in recital was on February 2, 1953, at Central Presbyterian Church in New York City with the following program:

Trumpet Tune  Purcell

Prelude and Fugue in A Minor

"The Old Year Has Passed Away"

Fugue in G Major (Gigue)            Bach

Pastorale                   Franck

Variations from Symphonie gothique Widor

Banquet celeste                     Messiaen

Fifth Study, Repeated Notes

Dogme Demessieux

Cadence                    Berveiller6

Group of improvisations on submitted themes7

Demessieux's début recital was reviewed in the leading organ periodicals of the day. M. Searle Wright of The Diapason felt her playing was representative of the Grand French manner--big line, simple cleancut phrasings, steady tempi and clarity of part reading and articulation in general.8 Editor of The American Organist, T. Scott Buhrman, was similarly impressed with her concept of articulation and praised her crisp and fearless staccato:9

If we have ears to hear with, a close scrutiny of how Miss Demessieux uses staccato, only rarely perverting the organ to its mud-thick legatos, will do much to revolutionize the funereal organ recital and, if we have the good sense to watch our repertoire better, revive the organ as an instrument of beauty rather than torture. . . . [She illustrates the] finest staccato to come out of Europe since Joseph Bonnet.10

She impressed American concert-goers with her phenomenal pedal technique, all the more astonishing due to her very high French heels. Not only her pedal technique, but her physique impressed Buhrman:11

Miss Demessieux has legs and she's not ashamed of them; they're shapely, and they dance around the pedalboard with never a miss; she's a little girl, very young, and has, evidently, so much good sense that nothing matters but her music. No lady can sit on an organ bench without showing how her shoes are attached to the rest of her, and Miss Demessieux apparently didn't give a darn; I like honesty.

The aforementioned reviews differ in their appreciation of Demessieux's utilization of the colors of the organ. Wright was not particularly impressed with her registrational choices:12

Demessieux, like many of her many French compatriots, seems to be satisfied only with the most sharply contrasting stops available, regardless of the timbre of individual voices and their blend or lack of blend in combination or opposition. The result is the use, both for ensemble or solo playing, of the biggest, hootiest flutes, the edgiest reeds, etc.

In the same recital, another reviewer felt Demessieux used the organ more effectively:13

Franck you can have; one of his least interesting pieces, but Miss Demessieux none the less used it [the Pastorale] to teach Americans another lesson they've tried to forget, namely that a mess of colors is not nearly so good as clear-cut pure colors. She contrasted reeds against flutes . . . the flutes were unmuddied by the addition of unnecessary supplementary voices, the reeds were ditto.

At Central Presbyterian Church Demessieux played a few of her own compositions. First, "Repeated Notes" from her Six Etudes is "grand concert music; it invites the Pedal to come up out of the 16' sub-basement and have a frolic in the living room with the rest of the family. And it has something musical to say too, and says it entertainingly."14 "Dogme" from Sept Méditations sur le Saint Esprit received mixed reviews.

T. Scott Buhrman wrote: "Dogme is typical contemporary noises, made as ugly as possible; don't blame that on Miss Demessieux; she's contaminated by the spirit of the age."15 In another review, M. Searle Wright was complimentary:16

Mlle. Demessieux's own "Dogme" proved an imaginatively written work in a big rhapsodic style. The composer's striking use of polytonal textures lends an exciting vitality to her music. What the French lack in imagination regarding registration they surely make up in their fertile harmonic consciousness.

Performing in the tradition of her maître Marcel Dupré and other French organists, Demessieux concluded all of her American concerts with an improvisation on submitted themes. In her New York début she improvised a three-movement symphony based on three themes submitted by M. Searle Wright. Wright comments:17

The fugue which crowned the improvised work was a genuine fugue complete with an exciting stretto in which the subject (an angular one) was managed in augmentation with the right foot alone, while the left provided a counterpoint to the brilliant manual parts.

Not all American concert-goers were in awe of French improvisations. Buhrman tartly writes:18

Since public improvisations are more of a sham than I'm willing to waste time on, I walked out after two or three minutes of it, though this time the improvisor did stick to the theme, at least while I was listening. I hope the organ world will grow up and abolish this childish nonsense; never once among all the improvisations I've suffered through--including Dupré's--have I heard anything worth the effort of hearing.

Above all, Demessieux performed her recitals professionally and without the manufactured flair of many keyboardists. As Buhrman commented:19

Before going to the bench, Miss Demessieux faced her audience and recognized them by a courteous bow, then went to her job without attempts to fool anybody with the usual tricks of all too many concert performers. . . . One thing always annoys me, and a lot of other organists too, is a player's making a silly show of himself or herself when playing ffff organ, trying to make the audience think it's harder to play ffff than pp. Observe this young lady and you'll be delighted with her honesty. Only once or twice did she fling a hand off the keyboard at the release of a ffff chord, and then it was only the left hand, never the right.

In a letter to her parents, addressed February 5, 1953, Demessieux declared that her first American recital was "a resounding success."20 She reported to her parents that the organ at Central Presbyterian Church was beautiful and that the American Organist sent her a very flattering letter regarding her début concert.21

Following an engagement on the six-manual organ at the Wanamaker store in Philadelphia, Demessieux played a recital on February 10 at the Pennsylvania College for Women in Pittsburgh. The program, sponsored by the Möller Organ Company, included:

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor                     Bach

Chorale Prelude                    Bach

Concerto in G Minor     Handel

Pastorale                   César Franck

Symphonie-Passion         Dupré

Epitaphe                   Berveiller

"Les Rameaux"                      Langlais

Chorale Prelude: "Ubi Caritas"                      Demessieux

Study for Octaves               Demessieux

Improvisation upon a given theme22

Fred Lissfelt reviewed the program:23

She represents not only an important church [St. Esprit, Paris] but a great tradition in French organ playing, avoiding the many sensational effects that other nations attain through brilliant registration, and holding firm to clarity of technique and a suave assurance in the art of improvisation, all of which she demonstrated well in her program.

Demessieux played the following program at First Methodist Church in Peoria, IL:

Trumpet Tune  Purcell

Prelude and Fugue in A Minor                       J.S. Bach

Chorale: "The Old Year Has Passed Away"     J.S. Bach

Fugue in G Major (Gigue)           J.S. Bach

Third Chorale in A Minor              Cesar Franck

Variations from Symphonie gothique                         Widor

Banquet celeste                     Olivier Messiaen

Fifth Study: Repeated Notes      Jeanne Demessieux

"Dogme" from Méditations sur le Saint Esprit                       Jeanne Demessieux

Cadence (Study for pedal dedicated to Jeanne Demessieux)  Jean Berveiller

Improvisation on a submitted theme24

The recital was reviewed by Evabeth Miller who wrote:25

Legend says that after the great Emperor Charlemagne had an Arabian organ brought to Aachen in the year 812, people were so impressed by its soft sweet tone that one woman died of the sheer ecstacy of hearing it.

Nothing like that happened Sunday afternoon in First Methodist Church, but it well could have, if that were a real measure of the exalted beauty of organ music, for Mlle. Jeanne Demessieux of Paris provided such tone, as well as a great deal else, in a remarkable concert program. . . .

One could not help thinking, too, particularly as the Widor music filled the crowded church in the late afternoon, that here was being heard a musician in the line of direct descent of greatness. For Mademoiselle Demessieux had played three Bach selections, and it was Widor who had edited the complete works of Bach with his pupil, the great organist-theologian-missionary doctor, Albert Schweitzer; and it was Widor who taught Marcel Dupré, who succeeded him at the Paris church of St. Sulpice; and it was Dupré who taught this young woman who has been organist of the Eglise du Saint Esprit in Paris since she was 12 years old.

She looked almost like a timid child as she came through a balcony door to take her place at the organ console, a slight figure in a simple, circular-skirted dress of light green silk, her short slightly auburn hair brushed back into a halo. Once seated, she proceeded as calmly as if she were playing something as simple as a spinet. But there the simplicity ended. . . .

In the first half, listeners were perhaps more enveloped in the music than in the technique of its production, but as the second portion began they became gradually more and more aware of the technical skill they were witnessing. Mademoiselle Demessieux' pedal work was nothing short of astounding, her intensity of feeling and sureness of concept in each work were conveyed by a technical mastery that got its only visibly dramatic expression in her hands, which had the graceful eloquence of a ballerina's hands in their approach to some passages.

The Peoria recital concluded with the characteristic improvisation. For this recital, Demessieux improvised a prelude and fugue on the chorale "O Sacred Head Now Wounded." She remained faithful to the theme's motive "as she embroidered on it elaborately and with considerable fullness, giving thrilling development to the fugue portion."26

She played a recital on March 8 at the First Methodist Church in Oakland, CA. Richard Montague remarked:27

Demessieux's playing possesses all possi- ble virtues. It is accurate, rhythmic, sensitive, dramatic, clear, chaste, vigorous and intelligent. One is impressed above all by her sureness and maturity. Her nuances seem always inevitable and affectation is unknown to her.

After various other recitals across the country, including Canton, OH, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, and even Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Demessieux concluded her first American tour, as it began, with a recital at Central Presby- terian Church in New York City. The program on March 22 included:

Overture from the 29th Cantata "We Thank Thee, God"              J.S. Bach

First Concerto in G Minor             G.F. Handel

Fantaisie on "Ad Nos, Ad Salutarem"                        Franz Liszt

"Ubi Caritas" from Twelve Chorale Preludes on Gregorian Themes   Jeanne Demessieux

Etude en tierces                    Jeanne Demessieux

"The World Awaiting the Savior" from   Symphonie-Passion                       Marcel Dupré

Improvisation on a Submitted Theme28

The recital was reviewed by Virgil Thomson in the New York Herald Tribune:29

French organ playing has been one of the musical glories of our century; and Jeanne Demessieux, who played an organ recital last night in the Central Presbyterian Church, is clearly a light in that glory. All evening long your reviewer, who has known most of the great organ playing of our time, from that of Widor and Bonnet and Vierne through Dupré to Messiaen, could only think of those masters as company for this extraordinary musician and virtuoso. . . .

Miss Demessieux's work as a composer appeared, from the two selections offered (a chorale-prelude on Ubi caritas and a Study in Thirds) to be skillful and musi- cally sophisticated. It was not possible to gather from them any characteristic profile of individuality. Neither was anything of the kind manifest in her improvisation beyond perhaps an assurance of taste, intelligence, and technical skill of the highest order. She improvised, as is the French custom, in the Baroque forms, including a dazzling Toccata. Since the theme composed for her by Seth Bingham did not lend itself easily to fugal treatment, she omitted the customary fugal finale and finished her series of improvisations quietly with a poetic variation based on thematic alterations.

Notable throughout the evening were the soloist's elaborate and subtle treatment of registration and her powerful rhythm. No less subtle and no less powerful were her phraseology and her acoustical articulation. Accustomed, no doubt, to compensating for the acoustical lags and other echoing characteristics of France's vast cruciform churches, all stone and glass, she employed to great advantage in the smaller but similarly reverberant walls of the Central Presbyterian a staccato touch for all rapid passage work involving bright or loud registration. This device kept the brilliance clean; and its contrast with the more sustained utterance of broader themes gave a welcome variety, a contrapuntal dimension. We are not used here to so dry an articulation, to so striking a clarity in organ playing. I must say that the fine brightness of the registration possibilities in the organ she was playing on aided the artist, as a good French organ also does, to avoid the muddy noises that so often pass for serious organ execution.

Last night there was no mud anywhere, only music making of the most crystalline and dazzling clarity. Every piece had style, beauty, gesture, the grand line. And perhaps the grandest line of all, the richest color and the most dramatic form were those of Liszt's magniloquent Fantasy. I wonder why organists play this work so rarely. Is it too hard to learn? Surely not. Miss Demessieux swept through it, as she did everything else, from memory.

Fred Haley was also present at the March 22 recital at Central Presbyterian:30

I do remember being overwhelmed by the technical virtuosity, the splendid musicianship and the poetic moments as well as the heroic ones. The registrations were complicated and efficient--made for extreme clarity--but were not as orchestral as Farnam tradition had accustomed me and my friends to. Also at a time when American women organists were wearing unbecoming floor length concert dresses with harem pants underneath (always excepting Catharine Crozier), Mlle. Demessieux was gowned in the height of Parisian chic--the New Look was still new then!

Demessieux wrote in her journal that the church was so full during her second recital in New York that they had to turn people away. She also felt the evening had a feverish ambiance.31

The 1955 American tour

In the February 1954 edition of The American Organist, Colbert-LaBerge Management announced the return of Jeanne Demessieux to America for another series of recitals. The youthful French organist, who amazed listeners on her first tour, would make another transcontinental tour of the United States during February and March of 1955.32 The tour, which opened in Glen Falls, NY, included recitals in New York City, Syracuse, Seattle, Milwaukee, and Chicago.

Unfortunately, Demessieux's voyage to the United States on the ship Liberty did not begin well. On the second day of travel she wrote in her journal of severe seasickness. The sea was very rough and the shutters for the portholes had to remain closed.33

Upon disembarkment in New York, Demessieux met with a representative from the Colbert-LaBerge management firm. Like many performers she was disenchanted with the technical details involved in making any recital tour a success. The papers, schedules, tickets, reservations, contracts, programs to modify, last minute engagements, and finances were things that Demessieux would rather not be bothered with. As a performer she had to keep track of the smallest detail, including schedule changes of trains and other unforseeable events. Despite these technical details, Demessieux realized the virtuoso had to present a wonderful if not impeccable recital.34

Demessieux began her 1955 American tour in Glens Falls, NY, on February 6. Despite newly fallen snow, a large number of people attended this premier recital. Her program included the following selections:

Toccata in F Major          Bach

"Come now, Saviour of the Heathen" Bach

Second Concerto in B Flat Major             Handel

Second Chorale in B Minor        César Franck Allegro (from Sixth Symphony)  Ch. M. Widor

Intermezzo (from the Suite)  Jean Berveiller

Triptyque                 Jeanne Demessieux

Improvisation on a submitted theme35

Demessieux performed the "Cadence" of Jean Berveiller as an encore.

Demessieux arrived in New York on February 7 for a return engagement at Central Presbyterian Church. Her program included:

Fantasy & Fugue in G Minor   Bach

"Blessed Jesus We Are Here" Bach

Fugue in C             Buxtehude

Concerto 10       Handel

B Minor Canon                      Schumann

Redemption (Interlude Symphonique) Franck

Sym. 2: Scherzo                    Vierne

"Paix"   Demessieux

"Dieu parmi nous"             Messiaen36

T. Scott Buhrman, editor of the American Organist, once again penned a colorful review:37

A concert organist is much like a host entertaining his friends; in both cases the first aim, outside an educational or penal institution, should be to give the friends, first a personal welcome, second something they'll enjoy. Miss Demessieux, presumably one of the great contemporary French organists, bowed courteously enough when she first appeared before her friends who were spending an hour--or two or three or four--to hear her and enjoy the musical feast she would presumably offer; but when she returned to the room after a ten-minute intermission she didn't even nod to those friends. . . .

The first half of the program was played on hard & loud Diapason & mixture combinations; even the Blessed Jesus was done that way, devoid of any touch of tenderness; also the middle Handel Concerto movement--though in spite of its hardness & loudness it still had something of happiness in it, which much of Handel's organ music has. [The] Recital began 12 minutes late.

The first enjoyable music was Schumann's, the righthand part played delightfully on strings, the answering lefthand on a loud flute for reasons I couldn't understand; the contrast was too violent. I think organists are tired of music, and in Central Presbyterian they are fooled dynamically because no artist could conceivably want so much music as loud as it hits the audience. There is no beauty in loudness. . . .

Naturally I do not know, but I believe Miss Demessieux must be one of the very finest French organists; now if she would make her music sound as charming and delightful as she herself certainly is, you couldn't ask for anything finer. She has everything in the world she needs excepting enough conceit to break away from the binding traditions of the organ world and constitute herself instead a hostess offering her friends the choicest bits of enjoyment possible to put together in a musical feast.

Demessieux herself felt there was a large audience at the recital. After the concert the audience presented flowers to her, and then she had to do her least favorite thing--greet and converse with the concert-goers.38

A recital at Grace Methodist Church in Harrisburg, PA, followed on February 10. Even though the organ was in bad condition and the combination action refused to work,39 Demessieux reflected in her diary: "a concert where the contact with the public was particularly comfortable (while playing, I thought suddenly: "If it were necessary to give this up, I never could.")"40

Despite the mechanical problems with the organ, a "large audience greeted Mlle. Demessieux and were greatly impressed by her technical perfection, profound musicianship and eloquence of interpretation."41 Her program included:

Toccata in F Major          Bach

"Come Now, Savior of the Heathen"    Bach Second Concerto in B Major         Handel

Second Chorale in B Minor        Franck

Allegro, from Sixth Symphony                       Widor

Intermezzo from Suite Jean Berveiller

Triptyque Demessieux

Improvisation on submitted themes42

Of her improvisation Irene Bressler writes:43

 . . . three themes written by Donald Clapper, organist of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church, were handed Mlle. Demessieux. . . . it was evident that she had caught the germ of her art of improvisation from her teacher Marcel Dupré. Whether one likes the modern idiom or not, it is ever a thrilling experience to follow the many moods displayed and always the grand, full organ climax.

After travelling by train, Demessieux played a recital at Syracuse University on Saturday, February 12th. She found there an excellent organ of three manuals in the neo-classical style (ca. 1950). The recital was a success, but few people attended because of the blustery winter weather.44 Though the concert was a success, the car ride to the university proved to be difficult. On the way to the university, the car Demessieux was riding in got stuck in a snowdrift. She and the other occupants had to brave the snow and wind on foot to make it to the school in time for the recital!45

In a letter to her sister dated February 15, Demessieux related that the tour was going extremely well. She felt that the present tour of America was going exactly as the preceding 1953 tour, but now she was more experienced.46 Again she expressed impatience with the constant demands upon the touring performer. She reluctantly accepted the invitations for dinners and receptions not because they were pleasurable for her, but because she knew they were required of her. She realized she had to be gracious whether she was fatigued or not. "As for smiling, it is the worst fatigue: it is necessary to smile constantly . . . I earn my money by a thousand efforts that include much more than playing."47

A recital on Friday, February 18 was a great success with many people attending, but other details of the recital have not survived. Demessieux concluded the concert with two encores.48 On Saturday February 19th, Demessieux's journal entries for the 1955 American tour came to an end due to lack of time. Further correspondence to her parents and sister provides information concerning the rest of the tour.

On February 28, Demessieux played the following program at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, WA:

Toccata in F Major         Johann Sebastian Bach

Chorale: "Dearest Jesus, We Are Here"                  Johann Sebastian Bach

Fugue in C Major               Dietrich Buxtehude

Tenth Concerto in D Minor        George Frederick Handel

Scherzo (Second Symphony)   Vierne

Redemption (Interlude Symphonique)                      Cesar Franck-Jean Berveiller49

Intermezzo (from the Suite)        Berveiller

"Paix" (from Seven Meditations sur le Saint Esprit [sic], Paris)                  Jeanne Demessieux

"Dieu parmi nous"             Olivier Messiaen

Improvisation on an Original Theme (submitted by George McKay, University of Washington)50

A review of this recital has not been located.

On March 2, Demessieux spent the day with Darius Milhaud and his wife at Mills College in San Francisco, performing for students and professors. Milhaud asked Demessieux to play one of her works for him, and she delighted him with a fugue. Milhaud then presented Demessieux a scholarly theme upon which to improvise another fugue. He was very astonished and said that he had previously heard a similar improviser51--most likely referring to Dupré.

After several recitals in the Midwest, including one at Ascension Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Demessieux played in Chicago. The March 7 recital at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Chicago was sponsored by the Chicago Club of Women Organists and attracted several hundred people. The program included:

Fantasie and Fugue in G Minor                    Bach

Chorale Prelude:                 "Blessed Jesus We Are Here" Bach

Fugue in C Major               Buxtehude

Concerto                  Handel

Allegro from Symphony 6             Widor

Redemption         Franck

Scherzo from Symphony 2           Vierne

"Paix" from Seven Meditations on the Holy Spirit          Demessieux

"Dieu parmi nous"             Messiaen

Improvisation on submitted themes52

The recital was termed "a brilliant display of virtuoso technique" even though the "Handel Concerto was interrupted twice by a loud point d'orgue which had not been planned either by the composer or the performer, but Miss Demessieux did not appear to be flustered."53

A recital at the Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on March 15 at 8:30 p.m. included the following selections:

Toccata in F        Bach

Chorale Prelude                    Bach

Concerto No. 2                       Handel

B Minor Chorale                  Franck

Fantasy on "Ad nos, ad salutarem"          Liszt54

On March 18th Demessieux played the following recital on the 1927 E.M. Skinner organ at the Toledo Museum of Art:55

Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor                      J.S. Bach

Choral Prelude:                     "Blessed Jesus, We Are Here"                        J.S. Bach

Fugue in C Major               Dietrich Buxtehude

Concerto No. 10 in D Minor      G.F. Handel

Canon in B Minor              Robert Schumann

Fantasy on "Ad nos, ad salutarem"         Franz Liszt

Improvisation on a Submitted Theme56

Reviews of these recitals have not been located.

March 21st found Demessieux in Buffalo, playing at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Her program, similar to others on this tour, was as follows:

Fantasie and Fugue in G Minor                   J.S. Bach

Chorale: "Blessed Jesus, We Are Here"                  J.S.Bach

Fugue in C Major               Buxtehude

Tenth Concerto in D Minor       Handel

Canon in B Minor              Schumann

Redemption (Interlude Symphonique)                       Franck

Scherzo (Second Symphony)   Vierne

"Dogme" (from Seven Meditations sur le Saint Esprit [sic]       Jeanne Demessieux

"Paix" (Seven Meditations sur le Saint Esprit) [sic]      Demessieux

"God With Us"                       Messiaen

Improvisation on a submitted theme57

John W. Becker, director of music at Holy Trinity at the time of the recital, recalls:58

[It was] an excellently fine recital. There was a brilliant display of her pedal technique especially in her own pieces and her improvisation. I sat behind her in the chancel, the only one there who could see her feet and was amazed at the speed of the pedal passages. She wore VERY high heels and seemed to move her legs very little. Her ankles did the work and appeared to place her high heels where she wanted them with unfailing accuracy and incredible speed. Hers was a very efficient and, by American standard, an unusually personal pedal technique. It was quite a show!

Theolinda Boris reviewed the concert in Buffalo:59

The petite organist's playing gave abundant evidence of her mastery of her instrument and of her exceptional musicianship. In short, she is a virtuoso who is also an artist!

Few organists of note who have played here recently have achieved as much variety of color in registration without sacrificing any of the essential qualities of the various pieces. Still fewer have played with such beautiful clarity throughout an entire program, not excluding the heaviest passages.

In fact, it was this clarity that minimized the somewhat thick and sluggish sound of the organ. Everything under Mlle. Demessieux' fingers was crisp, so that even involved contrapuntal threads sounded with a truly admirable clearness.

Demessieux' rhythm had a wonderful vitality and her handling of melodic line and phrase was like that of a master violinist or sensitive singer. Singularly fine were the naturalness and legitimacy of her climaxes, which were never a mere piling up of thunderous and muddy sonorities. . . .

A very impressive improvisation concluded Mlle. Demessieux' already impressive recital. Using two themes submitted by Eric Dowling of St. George's Anglican Church, St. Catharine's, Ontario, she expertly fashioned a three-part piece, Passacaglia I, Interlude and Passacaglia II.

The 1955 American recital tour concluded at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Reflecting upon the past two months, Demessieux found the trip extremely fatiguing--hard not only on the mind but body. She found travelling for such a long time difficult in a country so different from Europe. She reflected again that concert life was very draining because it was necessary not only to travel, but also to make a good impression, to undergo inter- views, and to share her viewpoints concerning French art, while courteously receiving the general public.60

The 1958 American tour

The January 1958 issue of The Diapason announced:61

Jeanne Demessieux will arrive in New York on the S.S. Liberte January 27. The opening recital of her third American tour will be in Glen Falls, NY, January 31 at the First Presbyterian Church. In February she will be heard in Newark, NJ, Philadelphia, Nashville, St. Louis, Denver and will give recitals in California at Chico, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, and Los Angeles.

Recitals have also been arranged in Fort Worth, Charlotte, N.C., Macon, GA, Bloomington, Ind., Fort Wayne, Pittsburgh and New Haven. She will appear in Chicago at St. Peter's Church March 10 and at New York City's Central Presbyterian Church March 24, her final recital before her return to France March 26. Her programs will include several of her own compositions.

Demessieux was accompanied on this tour by her student Claudine Verchère, who acted as secretary. "The idea of being assisted in the thousand material details of the journey seems an incredible benefit to me."62

While practicing on the organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Demessieux tried her newly composed "Te Deum" which was inspired by that organ. After a rehearsal of the piece, she thought the composition was successful and was relieved to find it was what she had intended.63 Later that day, she travelled to Glen Falls, NY, for her opening recital on January 31 at First Presbyterian Church. The town welcomed her even to the point of putting her portrait in the entrance hall of the hotel!64 For this recital Demessieux played the following selections:

Ouverture from Cantata 29          J.S. Bach

Fantasy in G Major          J.S. Bach

Fantasy 2, F Minor           W.A. Mozart

Basse et dessus de trompette    Clerambault

Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H.                  Franz Liszt

Chorale-Prelude:"Attende Domine"      Jeanne Demessieux

from "L'ascension" III. Transports de joie d'une ame devant la gloire du Christ, qui est la sienne.  Olivier Messiaen

Improvisation on a submitted theme65

Demessieux later recorded in her diary that the concert was a success. She was personally satisfied with the impressive silence of a captive audience of 900 people. She was impressed with the five-manual organ because the organ pos- sessed good foundations, an array of mixtures, and Cavaillé-Coll reeds. She commented that the overall ensemble was rather good. She related one horror: the couplers on the Great division coupled at the fifth rather than the unison!66

Hugh Allen Wilson, organist at the First Presbyterian Church at the time of the recital, fondly recalls Demessieux. He was present for both the 1955 and 1958 recitals in Glens Falls and shares his memories:67

I remember these recitals and Jeanne very well. She was an angelic creature in her personality and played as few of her contemporaries could or did. She was a pupil of Dupré at the same time that I was working with him in Paris--1947.

We were all intrigued that she played in rather high heels--particularly in the wonderful little virtuoso piece by Berveiller--the Cadence. I do not bring to mind whether or not she was accompanied by a friend on both of her concerts here. She did have a companion on one I am sure. I met them at the train on her first tour and remember her astonishment that she found someone fluent in French in the great north of New York State.

Demessieux recalled an incident in New York in which Claudine Verchère found an organ nearby their hotel and tried it out. Demessieux made an interesting statement concerning her former teacher: "The organ, an 1930 Austin, is horrible, heavy, cinematic. It is what Dupré would love, unfortunately!"68

On the morning of February 8 Demessieux arrived in St. Louis, MO. The organist of the host church met her at the railway station and immediately took her to record an interview that was to be on the radio later that afternoon. Demessieux felt the interview went well, but she refused categorically to have journalistic photos taken and would not give out any official publicity photos.69

Demessieux's journal entry of February 9 is somewhat curious:70

The day begins with with a semi-dramatic, semi-comical episode. During my silent practice, I was distracted by another organ sound coming from the basement which hindered my concentration. Then, I thought of stuffing my ears with . . . tissues because I didn't have cotton balls. Later, I removed them tranquilly. This morning, in my shower, I became completely deaf in my right ear, a piece of cotton remaining in my ear had inflated with water. I imagined the concert!

While in St. Louis, Demessieux gave the following recital in Graham Memorial Chapel at Washington University on February 10:

Prelude and Fugue in D Major                       Bach

Chorale Prelude: "De Profundis"                 Bach

Concerto No. 2 in A Minor          Vivaldi-Bach

Pièce héroïque Franck

Mouvement         Berveiller

(First performance in the U.S.A.)

Prelude on "Rorate caeli"               Demessieux

Te Deum                 Demessieux

(First performance in the U.S.A.)

Improvisation on two submitted themes71

Ronald Arnatt, reviewer for The American Organist states:72

I do not hesitate to be lavish in my praise of Jeanne Demessieux since I can safely state that I have never attended an organ recital that I enjoyed more than this. Her superb technique was immediately evident in her performance of the Prelude and Fugue in D Major--this wonderfully light-hearted work seems to be paticularly suited to the French probably because it benefits from a crisp, clear touch and an unerring pedal technique, both of which are the standard equipment of French artists; however, it was not only technique that made this particular performance so fine. Mlle. Demessieux makes it possible, through her transparent phrasing, for the listener to follow each voice with such ease that one could almost be listening to a top-notch ensemble. In the hands of a lesser artist the tempo of the fugue would have been disastrous--in the hands (and feet) of Mlle. Demessieux the extremely fast tempo seemed completely natural and completely right. . . .

I knew from her recordings what to expect in her performance of the Vivaldi-Bach--clarity and extreme precision--and again was delighted by being able to hear every single moving part: her registration in the first movement was sparkling and her phrasing clear as crystal.

The Franck was a little disappointing to me since the tempo fluctuated so much, large rallentandi were inserted where there is no indication and a rather noisy registration was used most of the time. Franck was always very careful to mark exactly what he wanted in the way of dynamics and tempo changes and I cannot see why so many organists appear to feel that he made omissions in this respect. Regardless of personal opinion however, it was a brilliant performance.

These comments regarding Demessieux's performance of the Pièce héroïque are very interesting when the two traditions of Franck organ playing are considered. The strict performance style of Franck playing, illustrated by Dupré and Widor, can be contrasted to the freer interpretations of Tournemire and Langlais. Langlais believed that Dupré played Franck's compositions very simply and regularly, missing their true spirit. Dupré eliminated fermatas, removed many dynamic indications and changed registration markings in his editions of the Franck organ works. It is very possible that Demessieux followed Dupré's indications regarding registration and dynamics in the Pièce héroïque, but tempo fluctuations and large rallentandi appear antithetical to Dupré's teachings--perhaps she asserted some independence on this point. Whatever the analysis, Demessieux's overall concept of performance did not entirely please the reviewer.73

The U.S. premiere of Jean Berveiller's "Mouvement" was not well-received:74

The Berveiller is scarcely worth mentioning--cliches of the Boëllmann and Widor toccatas abound with a few pseudo-jazz rhythms inserted to make it sound a little more modern complete with the Gershwin minor triad and many bravura pedal passages. The performance was stunning, but what a waste of precious time.

As a composer Jeanne Demessieux is known mostly in this country for her Twelve Preludes on Gregorian Themes--short, finely wrought pieces showing a combination of contrapuntal mastery and lyrical warmth. The prelude on Rorate caeli is one of the loveliest of these with a distinctive style all her own, leaning less on impressionism than some of her compatriots. Here was an entirely different approach to a Gregorian chant, martial in mood, polytonal in influence and excitingly brilliant. The work falls into three main sections: the opening strong exposition, the quieter, more reflective middle section, and the powerful toccata-like ending, frighteningly difficult and jaggedly dissonant.

An interesting perspective regarding the concluding improvisation is given by the reviewer Ronald Arnatt, who himself wrote the themes upon which the improvisation was based:75

Then came the solemn ceremony of presenting the themes to the artist for her improvisation--like some sort of strange liturgical rite: I feel particularly embarrassed since I wrote the themes upon which her improvisation was based.

The first theme was repetitive and angular in 5/8, the second a modal, lyrical theme in 6/8: I did my best to keep in mind the type of theme that might appeal to Mlle. Demessiuex's particular style. The improvisation began in a mysterious mood using snatches of the first theme, then the theme was announced in full in her own style as easily as if she'd written it herself. The work fell into three sections, in a similar manner to the Te Deum, with the second theme used as a basis for the middle section. Much use was made of fugal imitation, especially with the second theme, and brilliant use was made of the two themes superimposed on one another with the second theme altered to fit the 5/8 rhythm. In the finale, instead of the usual thunderous ending heard so often, the ending was lyrical and mysterious with beautiful use made of the interchange of the two themes.

Jeanne Demessieux was received with great enthusiasm and was brought back many times to take a bow--fortunately she did not play an encore since anything played after her own three works would have been an anti-climax. One further point--think of what a masterful composition we would have heard if she could have selected her own theme for improvisation instead of being stuck with mine!

Demessieux recalls a crowd of 1200 at her recital in Denver, CO, on February 12. At intermission, the priest ascended to the pulpit and announced that the audience was free to stand up and stretch their legs. All the people rose in their places, causing Demessieux to smile. When they returned to their seats and sat down, she continued with the second half of the recital.76 Obviously, such an announcement by the priest would have been uncommon in France!

She travelled on to Chico, CA, for a recital at Bidwell Memorial Presbyterian Church on February 14 and played the following program:


Ouverture from the 29th Cantata               J.S. Bach

Fantasy in G Major          J.S. Bach

Second Fantasy in F Minor        Mozart

Basse et dessus de trompette    Clerambault


Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H                  F.Liszt

Chorale Prelude:"Attende Domine"      Jeanne Demessieux

Ascension Suite (3rd Movement) "Transports de joie d'une ame devant a gloire du

                        Christ qui est la sienne"                     Olivier Messiaen


Improvisation on a submitted theme77

In her diary Demessieux noted in passing that the 1931 Möller organ at Bidwell Memorial consisted of only 12 ranks!78 It seems amazing that this organ could handle her recital literature, especially the Liszt, which requires large changes in dynamics and colors. Demessieux's skill at registration was appreciated by Charles van Bronkhorst:79

A petite but astounding young lady from Paris has proved that a heavy program and a small instrument can indeed sell organ music to an audience of predominantly just-plain-music lovers. . . .

Mozart was a definite highlight . . . Opening with full organ sans reeds, the first allegro section was lively and clean cut, with plenty of appropriate accent. The andante provided Mlle. Demessieux her first real opportunity to make use of the limited color available in this 12-rank instrument, and she took full advantage of contrasts provided by Melodia, Oboe, Gamba, Voix Celeste and separately enclosed Great and Swell divisons. Also noteworthy were the delicate ornamentation and terrific pedal work, the latter accomplished in high heels as is customary for this young artist. The buildup to full in the final allegro was smooth as silk, growing in excitement and brilliance to the end. . . .

Liszt's dazzling opus, difficult on even a sizable instrument, was handled so beautifully that I never once wished for more organ. Despite less than an hour's practice on this instrument, Mlle. Demessieux was in perfect control at all times: registration, dynamics and technique were combined to yield maximum results, yet I was never distracted by body movement of any kind as is often the case in this particular work.

James Kinne of the Chico State College music faculty submitted two four-measure themes in D Major and 6/4 meter for the improvisation.80 The themes were given to Demessieux in a sealed envelope and she studied them for a brief moment and then proceeded to deliver one of her deservedly famous improvisations.81 Another reviewer felt:82

The themes were ideal--simple, but rhythmically alive. Mlle. Demessieux began with the theme stated by Great flutes over Swell string celeste, then proceeded to exploit both subject matter and organ to their fullest in some ten minutes of breathtaking free variation, a high-point being the appearance of the theme toward the end in upper pedals a la pizzicato over manual accompaniment. I heard Marcel Dupré improvise on submitted themes several years ago and was duly impressed but have never been as stimulated or musically satisfied as by this beautiful demonstration in the French tradition.

Several conclusions were reached by this reviewer as a result of Mlle. Demessieux's visit to Chico: 1) a great artist need make no musical compromises in order to satisfy an audience; 2) a small instrument adequately installed and maintained is no handicap to such an artist; and 3) any doubts that the Great division should be enclosed in an organ under 15 ranks were completely dispelled--one reason for the success of this program was a flexibility and control achieved by thoughtful and skillful use of the two swell shoes. The artist gave no encores despite excellent audience reaction and applause.

On February 16, Demessieux gave a recital at the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, CA. Demessieux thought the evening was unforgettable and the audience very intelligent. The audience was so enthusiastic that she dared to play her "Te Deum" twice because the organ suited the composition perfectly.83 Program and reviews for this recital have not been located.

Her next recital was in Sacramento, CA, at the First Baptist Church and her program included:

Ouverture from the 29th Cantata               J.S. Bach

Fantasy in G Major          J.S. Bach

Second Fantasy in F Minor         Mozart

Basse et dessus de trompette    Clerambault

Prelude and Fugue "BACH"      F. Liszt

Choral-Prelude: "Attende Domine"       Jeanne Demessieux

Ascension:             Olivier Messiaen

Transports de joie d'une ame devant la gloire du Christ qui est la sienne"

Improvisation on a submitted theme84

Leland Ralph, organist of the First Baptist Church at the time of Demessieux's recital relates:85

Thirty plus years is a long time to remember every detail of her performance. However, I do remember that many of us felt it was a rather lackluster performance. Perhaps it was the instrument, or perhaps she was tired, I do not know. Too, so many of her selections had been performed so many times in recital here, that perhaps we were bored!! I do remember she was a delightful person.

On February 21 Demessieux played a recital in San Jose, CA, where the organ console was located in a pit so the audience could see only her head. She remarked that this time she didn't experience instant vertigo!86

On March 3, Demessieux travelled to Charlotte, NC, for an evening recital at Myers Park Methodist Church. The recital program was:

Overture from the 29th Cantata                   J.S. Bach

Fantasy in G Major          J.S. Bach

Second Fantasy in F Minor         Mozart

Basse et dessus de trompette    Clerambault

Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H                  F. Liszt

Choral-Prelude: Attende Domine"          Jeanne Demessieux

Ascension:             Olivier Messiaen

  "Transports de joie d'une ame devant le gloire du Christ qui est la sienne"

Improvisation on Submitted Themes87

Demessieux recalled a good concert and a magnificent audience. She reflected how uncomfortable she was at receptions where people burst into laughter, pause and notice suddenly that they are in front of you, then they say a few standard remarks to try to ease the tension.88.

On March 9, Demessieux performed in Bloomington, IN. She felt the organ console was too near the edge of the stage and asked someone from the church to reposition it. Unfortunately, the console did not get moved prior to the concert and she experienced vertigo! Despite the dizziness, she improvised a symphony of four movements on a submitted theme. She remarked that this improvisation was one of her better ones.89

Once again Demessieux was sponsored in recital by the Chicago Club of Women Organists on March 10 at St. Peter's Catholic Church. Frank Cunkle reviewed the concert:90

Mlle. Demessieux was not very happy with the medium-sized, unremarkable instrument, and neither her own back-breaking tour schedule nor the church's almost constant series of services helped at all to give her the time an organist needs to find an organ's strongest and weakest points and to persuade the stubborn beast to contribute only its good to the program.

Obviously, the reviewer did not know that Demessieux previously performed on the organ at St. Peter's during her 1955 recital tour. The program included the following selections:

Overture to Cantata 29                      Bach

Fantasie in G Major        Bach

Fantasie                     Mozart

Basse de dessus de trompette  Clérambault

"Outburst of Joy"                 Messiaen

"Attende Domine"             Demessieux

Te Deum                  Demessieux91

The review continues less than favorably:92

This preface already indicates that the recital this frail-looking Frenchwoman played did not provide an entirely satisfying evening. Mlle. Demessieux's command of the organ is extraordinary in many ways. She can play more correct notes per minute and in a more nearly metronomic rhythm than most of her contemporaries of either gender--no mean feat, certainly, and an important part of the armor of a virtuoso. How Mlle. Demessieux's predilections for thick, heavy registration sounds on French instruments, this reviewer has not had the opportunity to observe; the effect on our instruments is certainly neither to heighten the richness of harmonic texture nor to emphasize the linear architecture of great counterpoint. And her often mechanically perfect meter sometimes has the effect of making her rubato and ritenuto sound forced and out of place. The end result is too often absence of a flowing line and remarkably little feeling of artistic communication. . . .

This recital seemed to affirm to this listener that while American and German organists are playing better than their fathers and grandfathers, younger French organists are not yet succeeding in realizing the standards of musicianship, style and communication which made the last generation of French organ playing truly a "golden age."

On March 17, Demessieux played the following program at Woolsey Hall on the Yale University campus in New Haven, CT:

Prelude and Fugue in D Major                       Bach

Chorale: "De Profundis"                   Bach

Concerto in A Minor     Vivaldi-Bach

Pièce héroïque                         Franck

Mouvement         Berveiller

Chorale Prelude: "Rorate"             Demessieux

Te Deum                 Demessieux

Improvisation on a submitted theme93

 The reviewer, Barbara Owen, writes that:94

 . . . there was a large and enthusiastic house on hand to hear Mlle. Demessieux perform, and the remarkable lady from France did not let them down. . . . The D Major Prelude, perhaps because of its grand character, left little to be desired. The Fugue, on the other hand, was a bit too heavily registered and speedily played to be really satisfying, though I confess that its execution left me somewhat in awe of this woman's fantastically clean and accurate technique and excellent rhythmic sense.

The De Profundis was interestingly registered but cold. Perhaps as Schweitzer suggests it is because their culture and religious backgrounds are so different from Bach's, that the French seem rarely able to put across the more spiritual of the Bach chorale preludes. With the Vivaldi Concerto, however, she was back on solid ground and though her interpretation was again not the Baroque one it was nonetheless exciting.

From the first note of the Franck, it was obvious that Mlle. Demessieux had at last reached her real element and the writer cannot remember when she has heard such a pleasing performance of this frankly romantic warhorse. Here was 19th century French music unabashedly performed for what it is and on an ideally suited instrument.

Perhaps it was well that an intermission separated the 19th and 20th centuries. The Berveiller Mouvement, unlike some others of this composer's work, said what it had to say succinctly and interestingly, and is perhaps the most pleasing work I have yet to hear from this composer, whom Mlle. Demessieux has so zealously introduced to this country. Towards the end the composer suddenly breaks into an idiom which can only be described as jazz, and which here produces the same cold-shower effect that it does in his Epitaphe.

The improvisation was, as it often unhappily is, the dullest spot on the program. The theme submitted was a Gregorian chant Adoro te devote, which would seem an excellent vehicle. However, she did little with it, beginning with the usual meanderings over a solo melody, and building up to the inevitable climax replete with 64-foot stop and blazing reeds. At the conclusion, Mlle. Demessieux received a richly deserved and prolonged ovation, after which she returned for an encore, which turned out to be the inevitable French toccata.

Once again Demessieux's composure at the organ was noted by the audience and reviewer:95

A word should be said here about what might be called Mlle. Demessieux's console presence. Rarely, if ever, does one observe a European artist indulging in the ridiculous console gyrations so dear to the hearts of certain American recitalists bent on attracting the rock-and-roll set, yet in my corner of the balcony I could see a number of people who were sitting on the edges of their seats, and even standing, just to watch an organist who could tear flawlessly through the most difficult manual and pedal passages almost literally without batting an eyelash, and wearing high-heeled shoes at that (only other female organists will understand the import of this!) The sight of an organist sitting still and upright in the midst of a tumult of sound is to me more awe-inspiring than having to speculate on whether he or she is suffering from St. Vitus dance or an epileptic seizure.

On March 25, Demessieux returned to Central Presbyterian Church in New York to conclude her 1958 American recital tour and played the following program:

Overture, Cantata 29     Bach

Fantasie in G Major       Bach

Second Fantasie in F Minor        Mozart

Basse et dessus de trompette    Clérambault

Prelude and Fugue on BACH  Liszt

Chorale Prelude:"Attende Domine"      Demessieux

Te Deum                 Demessieux  (First Performance in U.S.A.)

Study in Thirds, No. 2  Demessieux

Transports de joie d'une ame devant la gloire du Christ                 Messiaen96

The review of the New York concert by Ray Berry begins:97

The young brilliant French artist gave a performance in New York which held to the incredible standards of technical excellence which she sets for herself in both playing and composing. In all departments, save perhaps one, Mlle. Demessieux is impeccable. Were I to find one fault, it would be that this program was not sufficiently relieved by music of a lighter character (which has nothing to do with inferiority), plus a certain warmness which could have been a bit more in evidence in interpretation.

The opening piece made a commanding demand on listeners' attention and was interpreted with stylistic integrity. The Bach Fantasie is practically never played in recital, for which I am not unduly surprised. Mozart was given an architecturally powerful concept which held the interest throughout. The charm of interpretation, as well as of the music itself, made the Clerambault especially welcome for it was one of the few light moments in the whole program. The Liszt was given a thrilling reading which captured all the excitement the composer intended.

Mlle. Demessieux as a composer is fascinating even though I suspect that there are some who feel her thoughts are not yet so fully matured as to include heart as equally as head . . . The choral prelude was that truly, and, had strength of spirit. The Te Deum made excellent use of dissonance in a fabulously difficult piece. For the benefit of those not familiar with this composer's Etudes, the thirds in question are in the pedal!! However, the elan and grace and effortlessness, with which this piece was tossed off, left this reporter breathless with amazement.

In this instance it took a French woman to interpret a Frenchman. Messiaen's Transports were a perfect, if slightly ear-shattering, close to an exciting evening.

While I cannot in all truth state that French organists completely match numerous American colleagues in the art of making music, I must of course admit readily that there are few if any who can match this charming young girl in sheer virtuosity. And this with unimpeachable deportment at the console almost to the point of shyness--but a shyness with clearly defined authority.

Her performance was so electrifying that despite the printed request for no applause there was spontaneous handclapping at the mid-point intermission which could not be ignored. With this as cue, the applause at the recital's conclusion was quite deafening.

This program was well designed and a complete entity. Therefore I was a bit annoyed that the usual improvisation demanded of French recitalists was tacked on to its end. Mlle. Demessieux attacked Searle Wright's interesting themes with care and imagination and made a fascinating work of art out of it, but . . . this 'art' is something we could do without--at least for a few seasons.

The 1958 American recital tour of Jeanne Demessieux, like the preceding tours, was a great success. Throughout the country, Demessieux played to full churches and was well received. Her technique, compositions and improvisations impressed and were applauded by the American public. This tour solidified her position as an international virtuoso. 

The significance of the American Tours

A number of American women organists, including Nita Akin, Claire Coci, and Catharine Crozier, made transcontinental recital tours of the United States in the 1950s, but few European women travelled across the Atlantic Ocean to perform organ recitals in North America. Through her American recital tours Jeanne Demessieux brought the French perspective of organ playing to the United States and dazzled audiences with her phenomenal technique. The tours of 1953, 1955, and 1958 were resounding successes and firmly established Demessieux as an international virtuoso. She demonstrated her skill at improvisation and introduced to American audiences a number of her own compositions and those of other French composers.

Demessieux's recitals were well received by reviewers and concert-goers alike. Audiences were impressed by her flawless pedal technique, particularly because of her high-heeled shoes, and her poise at the console. Not only was she a virtuoso organist, those who had personal contact with Demessieux found her to be a lovely and engaging person.

The American tours offered Demessieux the opportunity to perform some of her own organ compositions. On the 1953 tour she played various movements from her Six Etudes, including "Notes répétées," "Octaves," and "Tierces." The technical difficulty of these studies coupled with Demessieux's flawless execution amazed concert-goers. Also, on this premiere tour of America, Demessieux performed "Dogme" from Sept Méditations sur le Saint Esprit and introduced "Ubi caritas" from her Twelve Choral-Preludes. Although not all reviewers appreciated the compositional idioms of the twentieth century, Demessieux's compositions were generally well received by her concert audiences.

On her 1955 recital tour Demessieux often played "Paix" from her Sept Méditations sur le Saint Esprit and her three movement Triptyque. In 1958 she played more of her compositions, including "Attende domine" and "Rorate caeli" from Twelve Choral-Preludes, various movements from the Six Etudes, and the recently composed Te Deum, inspired by the organ at the church of St. John the Divine.

Not only did Demessieux perform her own compositions for the American public, she introduced organ works of other French composers. She paid homage to the French classical period in organ music by frequently performing the "Basse et dessus de trompette" of Clérambault on her 1958 tour. Numerous Franck works were played on all of her American tours--including Pastorale, A Minor Chorale, B Minor Chorale, Pièce héroïque, and a transcription of "Redemption" from Interlude symphonique.

Demessieux frequently performed compositions of the French symphonic organ school. She programmed "Variations" from Charles Marie Widor's Symphonie gothique, the "Allegro" from Symphony No. 6 of Widor, and the "Scherzo" from Louis Vierne's Symphony No. 2. Demessieux did not neglect compositions of her French contemporaries. She programmed "Les Rameaux" of Jean Langlais, along with Le banquet céleste, "Dieu parmi nous" from La Nativité du Seigneur, and "Transports de joie" from L'Ascension of Olivier Messiaen. Demessieux introduced into America many of the compositions of Jean Berveiller, her friend and colleague. Many times at least one work of Berveiller was programmed on every recital. She performed Berveiller's Cadence, Epitaphe, Mouvement, and "Intermezzo" from Suite.

Ironically, Demessieux performed few of the compositions of her maître Marcel Dupré on her American tours. Out of all the recital programs collected, only two programs from the tours presented a work of Dupré--"The World Awaiting the Savior" from Symphonie-Passion. She previously performed the majority of Dupré's works on her recital series at Pleyel Hall, so there is no doubt that the works were in her repertoire. Though the American public would have loved to hear her play his works, it seems that Demessieux preferred not to play Dupré's works in America.

Adhering to the French tradition, Demessieux concluded each recital with an improvisation based on a submitted theme. These improvisations took different forms depending on the character of the given themes. The forms Demessieux considered for her improvisations included symphony, variations, and prelude and fugue. Though some reviewers did not feel improvisations were necessary for the concert program, the majority of concert-goers were impressed by Demessieux's skill at improvisation and often compared her to Dupré.

Demessieux's diary entries for the American recital tours reveal that she enjoyed concert performing immensely and wished never to give it up. Unfortunately, she was not as comfortable with the constant personal demands of the concert artist. She did not enjoy the receptions, interviews, and dinners that she had to endure in every town.

The American recital tours of Jeanne Demessieux not only solidified her position as organ virtuoso and master of improvisation, but also introduced her compositions for organ to the American public. Surely, American organists and audiences of Demessieux's programs were greatly enriched by her phenomenal technique and the variety of literature that she performed in the United States.                    


                        1.                  For further information regarding the life of Demessieux, see Karen E. Ford, "Jeanne Demessieux," American Organist 26 (April 1992): 58–64.

                        2.                  The Diapason 43 (October 1952): 9.

                        3.                  American Organist 35 (November 1952): 389.

                        4.                 The Diapason 44 (January 1953): 1. For this and subsequent programs, the original language and forms of composers' names have been retained to reflect the style and spirit of the original program. Punctuation and capitalization have been standardized for consistency of presentation.

                        5.                  Paul V. Beckley, "Organist Plays 1,000 to 2,000 Works by Heart," New York Herald Tribune, February 1, 1953.

                        6.                  Jean Berveiller (d. 1976) was a French organist, composer and colleague of Demessieux. Throughout her American tours Demessieux programmed his organ works, which include Cadence, Epitaphe, Mouvement, and Suite in four movements. Cadence is a virtuostic pedal study dedicated to Demessieux.

                        7.                  The New York Times, February 1, 1953.

                        8.                  M. Searle Wright, "Jeanne Demessieux in American Début at New York Recital," The Diapason 44 (March 1953): 38.

                        9.                  T. Scott Buhrman, "Jeanne Demessieux Recital," American Organist 36 (February 1953): 59.

                        10.              Joseph Bonnet (1884–1944) studied organ with Guilmant at the Paris Conservatory, became titulaire at St. Eustache in 1906, and succeeded Guilmant as organist of the Concerts du Conservatoire in 1911. Bonnet made his American début in New York in 1917.

                        11.              Buhrman, 59.

                        12.              Wright, 38.

                        13.              Buhrman, 59.

                        14.              Buhrman, 60.

                        15.              Buhrman, 60.

                        16.              Wright, 38.

                        17.              Wright, 38.

                        18.              Buhrman, 60.

                        19.              Buhrman, 59.

                        20.              Christine Trieu-Colleney, Jeanne Demessieux: Une vie de lutte et de gloire (Avignon: Les Presses Universelles, 1977), 195.

                        21.              Trieu-Colleney, 195.

                        22.              Fred Lissfelt, "Organist's Recital Lauded," Pittsburgh Press, February 10. 1953.

                        23.              Lissfelt.

                        24.              "Paris Organist Will Play for Peorians Today at 4," Peoria [IL] Journal Star, February 15, 1953.

                        25.              Evabeth Miller, "Immense Organ Court is Played by Small Parisienne," Peoria [IL] Journal Star, February 16, 1953.

                        26.              Miller.

                        27.              Richard Montague, "News of the American Guild of Organists--Northern California," The Diapason 44 (April 1953): 14.

                        28.              Taken from original program.

                        29.              Virgil Thomson, Music Reviewed:  1940–1954 (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), 363–5.

30.              Letter from Fred Haley, Oklahoma City, OK, to Laura Ellis, March 12, 1991.

                        31.              Trieu-Colleney, 196.

                        32.              American Organist 37 (February 1954): 60.

                        33.              Trieu-Colleney, 198–9.

                        34.              Trieu-Colleney, 198–199.

                        35.              Taken from original program.

                        36.              T. Scott Buhrman, "Jeanne Demessieux Recital, American Organist 38 (March 1955): 85.

                        37.              Buhrman, 85–6.

                        38.              Trieu-Colleney, 200.

                        39.              Trieu-Colleney, 200.

                        40.              Trieu-Colleney, 201.

                        41.              Irene Bressler, "News of the American Guild of Organists--Harrisburg, PA," The Diapason 46 (April 1955): 15.

                        42.              Bressler.

                        43.              Bressler.

                        44.              Trieu-Colleney, 201.

                        45.              Trieu-Colleney, 201.

                        46.              Trieu-Colleney, 202.

                        47.              Trieu-Colleney, 202-3.

                        48.              Trieu-Colleney, 203.

                        49.              Demessieux performed "Redemption (Interlude-Symphonique)" throughout America on her 1955 tour. The program for this recital reveals that the idea of an organ transcription of this work was suggested by Mlle. Cecile Boutet de Monvel (1864–1940), cousin and interpreter of Franck. Demessieux played from the unpublished transcription of Jean Berveiller.

                        50.              Taken from original program.

                        51.              Trieu-Colleney, 204.

                        52.              The Diapason 46 (April 1955): 42.

                        53.              The Diapason 46 (April 1955): 42.

                        54.              Washington Post, March 13, 1955, H10.

                        55.              Taken from original program.

                        56.              Taken from original program.

                        57.              Taken from original program.

                        58.              Letter from John W. Becker, Pittsburgh, PA, to Laura Ellis, August 29, 1990.

                        59.              Theodolinda Boris, "Jeanne Demessieux Displays Artistry in Organ Recital," Buffalo [NY] Evening News, March 22, 1955, 26.

                        60.              Trieu-Colleney, 205–6.

                        61.              The Diapason 49 (January 1958): 2.

                        62.              Trieu-Colleney, 207.

                        63.              Trieu-Colleney, 207.

                        64.              Trieu-Colleney, 207.

                        65.              Taken from original program.

                        66.              Trieu-Colleney, 207

                        67.              Letter from Hugh Allen Wilson, Schenectady, NY, to Laura Ellis, January 6, 1991.

                        68.              Trieu-Colleney, 208.

                        69.              Trieu-Colleney, 210.

                        70.              Trieu-Colleney, 210.

                        71.              Ronald Arnatt, "Jeanne Demessieux, Graham Memorial Chapel, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, February 10, 1958," American Organist 41 (April 1958): 149.

                        72.              Arnatt.

                        73.              For further information regarding the French traditions of playing the organ works of César Franck, see Robert Sutherland Lord, "Conversation and Commentary with Jean Langlais," The Diapason 66 (March 1975): 3.

                        74.              Arnatt.

                        75.              Arnatt.

                        76.              Trieu-Colleney, 211

                        77.              Taken from original program.

                        78.              Trieu-Colleney, 211.

                        79.              Charles van Bronkhorst, "Jeanne Demessieux, Bidwell Memorial Presbyterian Church, Chico, CA, February 14," American Organist 41 (April 1958): 148.

                        80.              Bronkhorst.

                        81.              "Audience Enthusiastic Over Organ Recital," Chico [CA] Enterprise Record, February 15, 1958, 1.

                        82.              Bronkhorst, 148.

                        83.              Trieu-Colleney, 212.

                        84.              Taken from original program.

                        85.              Letter from G. Leland Ralph, Sacramento, CA, to Laura Ellis, August 27, 1990.

                        86.              Trieu-Colleney, 212.

                        87.              Taken from original program.

                        88.              Trieu-Colleney, 214.

                        89.              Trieu-Colleney, 216.

                        90.              Frank Cunkle, "Demessieux in Chicago," The Diapason 49 (April 1958): 16.

                        91.              Cunkle.

                        92.              Cunkle.

                        93.              Barbara Owen, "Jeanne Demessieux. Woolsey Hall, Yale University. New Haven, CT, March 17." American Organist 41 (June 1958): 223–4.

                        94.              Owen, 223.

                        95.              Owen.  

                        96.              Ray Berry, "Jeanne Demessieux. Central Presbyterian Church, New York, March 25," American Organist 41 (June 1958): 225.

                        97.              Berry.

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