Mention the name of the French organist-composer JeanneDemessieux (1921-68) and someone will broach a tantalizing question from the history of the Paris organ world: why in 1946 did Marcel Dupré bring to a sudden end both his five-year-long artistic collaboration with Jeanne Demessieux and the close friendship he and his wife shared with the Demessieux family? No one knows, but recently rediscovered primary sources shed light on the matter.
The basic scenario was unusual. In the wake of her ParisConservatory first prize in organ in 1941, Demessieux underwent an intensivepostgraduate program of organ study with Dupré. Under his supervisionshe acquired an enormous repertoire and prodigious improvisation skills.Meanwhile, she was Marcel Duprés collaborator in seeking newfrontiers for pedal technique and new directions in composition for the organ.Demessieux's long-overdue public debut, a February 1946 recital of worksby Bach, Franck, Dupré and herself, created a sensation. That spring,Demessieux performed the remainder of the six-recital series that MarcelDupré and his wife, Jeanne Dupré, had planned for her. Theseprograms were played entirely from memory and always on a specially restoredand regulated Cavaillé-Coll organ, its console placed to evoke the sceneof a piano recital. Audience reaction suggests that her debut series bestowedrenewed glory on Duprés powers to bring organists to ever newheights of virtuosity and creativity at their instrument. Immediately afterrecital number six, near the beginning of June, the Duprés left on aNorth American recital tour, one of the aims of which was to undertake advancepublicity for another stage of the Demessieux project, her planned NorthAmerican debut. Yet, from their return to France at the end of December 1946onward, the Duprés refused ever again to speak to Jeanne Demessieux.
To the mutual friends who then entreated him, MarcelDupré withheld all word of explanation.1 Demessieux, who, according toher friends and family never completely recovered from the trauma of rejection,remained, to the end of her life, entirely at a loss to understand what causedher dearest friends to repudiate her.2
Six years after her death, in 1974, her older sister,Yolande Demessieux (1908-2000), provided material to theorganist-composer-musicologist Christiane Trieu-Colleney (1949-1993),including Jeanne Demessieux's journals and surviving correspondence, fora biography.3 As well as describing every aspect of Demessieux'sformation and career, this book undertook discussion of possible causes of theDuprés volte-face, which was a blow to Demessieux's parentsand sister, too. Having to walk a narrow path between satisfying YolandeDemessieux's desire for justice and not stating anything too embarrassingor controversial, Trieu-Colleney offered several, hypothetical, carefully phrased explanations. Most attempted, on the basis of evidence available toher, to find a bone of contention between the former collaborators, butwithout, in the end, appearing to favor one particular reason for the rift morethan any other.4
Duprés only available words on the matter arein a handwritten memo, to an unknown addressee, concerning his wish that someof his correspondence be suppressed. In translation, the entire memo reads:
Here are the reasons for which we wish that these fewletters do not appear:
1st Messiaen--the criticisms are just, but severe forhim. I like him personally very much. Please let this remain secret.
2nd Mlle Demessieux--Although during the years afterher prize I worked with her for nothing, she was unworthy of me and MadameDupré. This wound has never healed. I don't need to say more. Youcan guess.5
These words, even if they do not tell us exactly whathappened, do make it clear that something caused the Duprés to lose allrespect for their former protégée. Moreover, the final two, shortsentences suggest that Marcel Dupré expected his intended reader wouldbe able to deduce in what way Demessieux had proved to be undeserving of theircharity and respect.
Having the benefit of this statement from Dupré, thesame primary sources that were available to Trieu-Colleney--including thejournal of events and conversations Demessieux kept during the period December1940 through December 19466--and a cushion of elapsed time, I present inthis article a picture on which to base a theory of what brought about the endof the Dupré-Demessieux collaboration. Three concurrent situations willbe examined: the general state of the Paris organ world, the nature of therelationship between Marcel Dupré and other Paris organists, and thenature of the relationship between the Dupré family and JeanneDemessieux. Information on all three, as well as on Demessieux herself, emergesfrom events and conversations recorded in the latter's journal for thesix-year period cited above. In the remainder of the article, I will set thehistorical scene, outline the scenarios that emerge from the journal and, inconclusion, point to the likely cause of the abrupt end to the collaboration.
A Perspective on the Paris Organ World, circa1920-1960
Since theheyday of the 1890s, when attendance at organ recitals in public halls in Parisand the fame of Parisian organ tribunes on a Sunday were at their height, therole of organ music in the city's musical life had gradually waned. Inthe period between the wars, it was increasingly evident that one ofFrance's greatest exports, organ playing, was continuing to lose prestigerelative to other musical genres, and doing so even in its own capital.Meanwhile, at the start of this period the organs of France were the victims of disrepair, the First World War, a decline in excellence in organ-building andmodifications to historic instruments that were sometimes ill-conceived.
After World War I, there were two contrasting viewpointsamong Paris organists as to where the future of the organ and its repertoirelay.7 One viewpoint was that of Dupré (1886-1971), a protégéof Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911) and Charles-Marie Widor(1844-1937) and, through them, heir to the performance practice of theBelgian organist Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens (1823-81).8 Duprébelieved he had demonstrated, in his successful domestic and internationalcareers, that the way to renew and maintain the glory of the French organschool was by continuing the interdependent evolutions of organ technique,composition for the organ and organ building, and to do so in the samedirections as had led French organists to their original world acclaim. ForDupré this meant grooming organists who could rival the great pianistsin technical brilliance and interpretive charisma, and mentoring futuregenerations of composers for the organ. In his mind, revitalization of theFrench organ school called for studying the principles of thenineteenth-century organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in order thatthe best French Romantic organs could be restored according to their originaldesigns. In the design of new organs, it depended upon making up for havingrecently fallen behind British builders (Henry Willis)9 and American builders(E. M. Skinner)10 in pursuit of technology that would allow the organ tocontinue to increase its dynamic and timbral flexibility.11
On the other hand, coming up just behind Dupré werethe careers of a lineage of French organists who were personally interested inquite an opposite set of goals. Among these goals were cultivation of the vastFrench Baroque organ repertoire and the recovery of early keyboard technique.The most influential proponents of early organ music were the organistAndré Marchal (1894-1980)12 and the musicologist Norbert Dufourcq(1904-1990).13
Marchal, like Dupré, enjoyed an international concertand recording career, and was a sought-after teacher by students from NorthAmerica and other parts of Europe as well as France. Unlike Dupré, hewas not a direct descendant of the Lemmens-Widor heritage. Marchal's performance style is described by a friend of his, the British music critic Felix Aprahamian, as follows: Having rejected an untraditional Romanticapproach to Bach early in his career, his later resistance to the equally false aesthetic of metronomic intransigence and excessive staccato made him asometimes wayward but always sensitive Bach player.14 His repertoireranged from the medieval era to Messiaen, but omitted the big organ works,particularly the organ works of Liszt, and Dupré's large-scale compositions for organ.15 Unlike other famous French organists born prior to1925, he was not himself a composer.
Dufourcq, a close friend of Marchal, was, foremost, a highlyknowledgeable historian of French music and early organ building in France, anda scholarly editor of early organ music. He shone as an engaging, if alsopolemical, writer and speaker. His visibility rose further when he collaboratedwith Marchal in several famous series of lecture-recitals that occurred inParis, elsewhere in France and beyond.16 Dufourcq was one of the foundingmembers, in Paris in 1926, of the society 'Les Amis del'Orgue,'17 one of the aims of which was to encourage a new styleof organ-building.18
Marchal and Dufourcq, in collaboration with the organbuilder Victor Gonzalez (1877-1956), spearheaded the twentieth-centuryorgan reform movement in France.19 Beginning with organs the Gonzalez companybuilt from about 1930, theirs was an attempt to unite in one instrument thetonal requirements of German and French Baroque organ music, and Romantic andmodern organ music, using principles of organ design that they termednéo-classique.20 These principles were, at first, used both in therenovation of existing Baroque- and Romantic-era instruments, and in thebuilding of completely new instruments.21 Between the wars, as organs needed tobe restored or replaced, the aim to create an all-purpose instrument resultedin some controversial rebuildings of Romantic and Baroque organs alike.22 Aprominent example in Paris was the 1937 Gonzalez organ, built for the concerthall of the Palais Chaillot, which incorporated the pipework of theCavaillé-Coll organ that had existed in the former concert hall on thesame site.23
The two streams of organists in France in the first half ofthe twentieth century did not coexist peacefully. Dupré had many harshcritics from among adherents to Marchal and Dufourcq. They accused him ofmetronomic playing of an unmusical sort24 and excessively fast tempos. They didnot like his phrasing and claimed his registrations were flawed by heaviness.25When teaching, 'he showed himself to be fiercely opposed to certaininterpretations, to certain aesthetics; this attitude could not but irritatethose who were warm-blooded.26 According to Dufourcq, Duprédefended 'technologie passéiste' in organ design.27 Writingin 1971, Dufourcq summed up his critique by saying that it would not have beenlogical for everyone to follow Dupré because many others were'very interested in progress.'28
On the other hand, Marchal and his students came undercriticism from Dupré's supporters for neglecting the cultivationof virtuosity and ignoring most of the big organ works in existence. From thepoint of view of Marchal's detractors, when playing Bach, he, andorganists like him, employed inappropriate rubato and an idiosyncratic melangeof different sorts of detached articulation.29 The neoclassic organ, to thesupporters of Dupré, rendered an equal disservice to Bach, the Romanticrepertoire and modern organ composition. Moreover, the organ reform movement inFrance fostered misunderstandings of the principles of Cavaillé-Coll(e.g., it was responsible for the notion that Cavaillé-Coll aimed tovoice stops in imitation of orchestral instruments, and the notion that he madeno use of mutations and mixtures); thereby the neoclassic movement furtheredthe neglect of Cavaillé-Coll's ideals.30
The ideological differences between Paris organists resultedin acrimonious disputes on commissions to restore organs.31 Combined with thebaser human emotions, such as egotism and envy, they also caused anunconscious, and not-so-unconscious, forming of cliques of loyalty, forexample, when church positions and teaching posts came open.32 Competition inthe Paris organ world was strong and ruthless.33
Dupré's Relationships with Others in the ParisOrgan World
Demessieux's journal of 1940-46, in which shestrove to record events exactly as they occurred, and conversations as nearlyverbatim as possible, provides insights into Dupré's relationshipswith other Paris organists. From Dupré's point of view, a majorcause of enmity toward him and his goals was his colleagues' jealousy ofhis abilities and achievements. He judged that their resentment began inearnest following the display of his musical powers in his pioneering 1920series of Bach recitals. In the following words he warned Demessieux what toexpect as a result of her own debut:
. . . At your age I, too, saw that the old could bejealous of the young. (I am jealous of no one, you know.) Later I knew thejealousy of colleagues, and now, as you well know, I know the jealousy of theyoung. Not that I mind. You will see! . . .34
He did, though, feel keenly the malice of others that heattributed to jealousy:
I have reached the age of fifty-seven without havingattained my goal, which is peace. I will have accomplished so much, and allI've gotten in return is insults, insults.35
Having become distrustful of his colleagues, he privatelybelieved that the society Les Amis de l'Orgue had been setup expressly to oppose his viewpoints.36 On the other hand, sometimes being tootrusting of others' motives caused him grief: in the following excerptfrom Demessieux's journal, Bernard Gavoty37 tells her how one ofDupré?s friendships turned to enmity:
In the train, he [Gavoty] had a lot to say about the'great affection' that, at one time, joined Dupré andVierne, and that was ruined by 'some third persons, playing a role intheir life.' 'These two great men,' he called them, whichshocked me.
It was like a thorn in Dupré's side that in thefirst half of the twentieth century a generally negative attitude toward therecent Romantic era of music caused early- and modern-music enthusiasts aliketo disparage post-Romantic organ composition and the symphonic organ.39 As aMonsieur Provost, whom Demessieux identifies as a friend of Dufourcq and memberof 'Les Amis de l'Orgue,' made a point of saying to her oneday, 'When [Dupré's] Symphony in G minor is played, I willwhistle.'40 Dupré, for his part, was not someone to forgive thosehe regarded as his enemies. Demessieux's account of a concert byDupré, one of a series of Bach recitals in 1945, begins as follows:
Yesterday at St. Philippe [-du-Roule]. Organ was fine.Dufourcq and Marchal were there together. A splendid concert. When Duprécame down, Duf[ourcq] and M[archal] went to him. We [Dupré et al.]turned our backs on them.41
Gavoty was telling her nothing that she did not already knowwhen he said, 'Dupré and Marchal are enemies until death.'42
In short, Dupré by 1941 was disappointed and bitter.As successful as had been his career beyond Paris, his ideas on organ building,his style of playing and his organ compositions were the butt of spitefulcomment by a faction of Paris organists and by the students of thoseorganists.43 He also suffered the disrespect of many of his Parisian composercolleagues for being the author largely of instrumental works, particularlyworks for organ, and of no works for musical theatre, the staging of which wasde rigueur for a French composer to enter the upper echelons of repute.44 True,among Paris organists he wielded a sort of power for having succeeded Gigout asprofessor of the Paris Conservatory organ class in 1926 (a position he garneredwith the strong backing of Widor). But he subsequently suffered from the lackof respect shown to him by many of his Conservatory students, the larger partof whom naturally came from other organ teachers. Demessieux recorded in herjournal:
Calmly, Dupré again spoke to me of his enemies; [JD:]'They have not let up?'
MD: 'They are worse than ever. There is anorganization against me, like there was one against Liszt, against Chopin,against Busoni. I only have 'half-students'; they are set upagainst me. In organ concerts at the [Palais de] Chaillot, only the simplest ofmy works is tolerated . . .'45
Dupré sensed himself at a dead end: by 1941, afterfifteen years as professor of the Paris Conservatory organ class, he despairedof ever finding a young musician who was both suitably gifted and interested inhis ideas about the organ. That despair gradually lifted with the appearance ofan exceptional student.
Demessieux's ambition, from her childhood, was a dualcareer as composer and concert pianist.46 At the Paris Conservatory, herpianism and interpretive flair flourished under renowned performer-teachersLazare-Lévy (1882- 1964) and Magda Tagliaferro (1893- 1986),while her theory teachers, Noël Gallon (1891-1966) and Jean Gallon(1878-1959), anticipated the day that she would carry off the Prix deRome in music composition.47 After receiving first prizes in harmony (1937),piano (1938) and fugue (1939), she entered a composition classand--originally meant to be a supplementary endeavour--the organclass.48 By the example of Dupré, she was drawn more and more to theorgan, but not without a real regret that the organ lacks such a treasure ofRomantic-era music as the piano has.49 In neither background nor temperamentwas Demessieux suited to exploring early music or early keyboard technique; butas a twenty-year-old she played neglected organ works such as Liszt'sFantasia and Fugue on 'Ad nos, ad salutarem' with amazing panacheand interpretive insight.
Barriers soon rose before her. In 1941, although flushedwith the success of her unanimous first-prize showing in that year'sParis Conservatory organ competition, she was immediately afterwarddisillusioned by the intransigence of the musical establishment on thecomposition jury: its members had derided her submissions semester aftersemester. She had reason to suspect that in the 1941 Paris Conservatorycomposition competition the women competitors were deliberately 'shutout' but, taking into account the wider situation, her own case may havehad as much to do with, first, becoming known as an organist, and second, beingknown as a favorite student of that bête-noire Dupré. By thesummer of 1941, her self-esteem as a composer had plummeted, making herlong-held career plans suddenly seem less certain.
The Grand Scheme
By 1941 Dupré had observed Demessieux's musicianshipfor five years and knew that in ability, background training and musicaltemperament she was his dream student. He saw that, beyond being the mostgifted, perfectly trained and hardworking musician he had ever known, thisyoung organist was capable of picking up where he must eventually leave off inthe continuing evolutions of organ technique and writing style for theinstrument. For five more years Dupré would be convinced of this, evenwhile he repeatedly shook his head over the irony (to his way of thinking) offinding this musician in a woman.
For her part, Demessieux had no doubts that Dupré wasthe only organ teacher with whom she would ever wish to study, and that he madeno idle promise in guaranteeing her a brilliant career as a concert organist,composer and teacher. In formal discussions Dupré receivedDemessieux's guarantee that she would dedicate her entire being to thecommon aims they shared. An agreement was struck between the two families: theDemessieux family would have to be willing to commit their daughter'stime and energies to this further period of apprenticeship; Jeanne Dupréwould play as active a role in managing the formation of Demessieux'scareer as she had taken in the management of her husband's career thusfar.
The Duprés formulated and undertook their plans forlaunching Demessieux because they had confidence in her and because MarcelDupré sincerely believed that he, and not the anti-Romantic faction oforganists, had the correct idea of how to preserve and enhance the reputationof their art. Nevertheless, Dupré was human enough that, for the calumnyand misery he perceived his enemies to have caused him, he also wantedrevenge.50 This was an aim with which Demessieux, as much his wife anddaughter, had complete sympathy. The Dupré-Demessieux expectationappears to have been that ideological disputes would be settled by theproclamation of a clear winner, this in the form of an undisputed audiencefavorite. Demessieux's debut and subsequent career were meant to provecertain points: first, the preference of general audiences for listening toBach and Romantic music (as opposed to large doses of early music),particularly when played by a first-class virtuoso and on aCavaillé-Coll-style instrument; and second, the superiority ofDupré's pedagogical principles--for Demessieux was theproduct of Dupré's organ teaching and none other's. Inshort, the debut and the career of a dynamic young French organist andcomposer, who unreservedly shared Dupré's ideals, were expected toshame his critics. Dupré would be compensated for having felt ostracizedsince the 1920s and, through their parallel careers, the honored place of theorgan in western music would gradually be restored.
How had they thought to ensure these results?
--By leaving no stone unturned in Demessieux'spreparation, of course, but also by maximizing the impact of her first publicconcert appearance.
--By a strategy that alternated suppression ofinformation with information leaks.
Except for church services (where the full extent of herpowers was not evident), for nearly five years following her last appearance ina Paris Conservatory organ competition, Demessieux did not play in public.Principal organist of her own parish, Saint-Esprit (1933-62), with theresponsibility of assuring the organ-playing there, she allowed Dupré toput a word in with her parish priest because he wished that she be free fromtime to time to take his place in the more prestigious tribune ofSaint-Sulpice. Here was the instrument where, near the start of the century,Widor had convinced himself that Dupré would be his principal supplyorganist and his successor.51 Generally, it worked to Dupré'spurposes that--when he was away and Demessieux could play atSaint-Sulpice--in the tribune (as well as Madame Dupré) were bothhis admirers among the church-going laity and others who were?spying? (as Dupré regarded appearances of particularadherents of the opposing faction). According to their affiliation, thesewitnesses reported back to him or to his detractors the growing marvel ofDemessieux's improvisations in traditional forms.
In other ways, Demessieux was a mystery to Paris musiciansand recital goers. Like her peers, who played debut and follow-up recitals andmade radio broadcasts during this period, she too received invitations toperform in public venues following her Paris Conservatory first prize. (Bymodern standards, there was no lack of organ recitals taking place in Franceduring the German occupation.) She received an invitation from Dufourcq to playa recital in the series he regularly organized at the Palais Chaillot(1943-44 season)52 and another from Gaston Litaize, who, suggesting aprogram made up entirely of early music, wanted her to play for a radio broadcastand a recital at the Palais Chaillot.53 Nevertheless, she refused theseproposals, not only for ideological reasons, but to withhold revelation of herabilities as a concert organist until the day conditions in Paris were idealand European borders were open again. From the nature of invitations to performat Chaillot, and from other overtures for collegiality,54 it gradually becameevident to Demessieux that an attempt was being made to attract her into the 'orbit of Dufourcq'55 and even to gain control of her debut as aconcert organist.
The Duprés' plans for her debut dependedheavily on the existence of the right organ in the right setting--aconcert hall with a Cavaillé-Coll organ in primecondition--apparently non-existent in Paris in the early 1940s. Dupréundertook to persuade the associates of the Salle Pleyel to shoulder theexpense of restoration of its Cavaillé-Coll organ and repositioning ofthe organ console. At a crucial stage in his negotiations with the Salle Pleyelassociates, it appears that friends of the Chaillot-Dufourcq faction laid atrap for Demessieux, the falling into which--if she and JeanneDupré had not had their suspicions--would have unmaskedDupré's ulterior motive--that the Salle Pleyel instrumentshould fit his and Demessieux's ideals for her debut recitalseries--thereby ruining the impact of his arguments to the Salle Pleyelassociates.56 After being alerted by his wife, Dupré scrambled to ensurethat other possible forms of interference during his meeting with the associatesof the Salle Pleyel were also averted, with the result that his hopes for theorgan were, in time, successfully realized.
What kinds of contact existed between Jeanne Demessieux andthe Dupré family during this five-year period? In addition to her ownpracticing, composing, teaching, editing, and liturgical duties, once or twicea week Demessieux spent several hours at the Dupré home in the Parissuburb of Meudon, hours that were occupied by a multitude of activities. Shegradually performed for her mentor all of the major Bach and post-Bach organrepertoire, along with a sprinkling of early music favorites and select modernworks; she listened to Dupré perform. They conferred over an anthologyfor organ students and an edition of Handel's organ concertos they werejointly preparing for publication; at other times they played and discussed thetwelve organ études that Dupré wrote during 1942-1943 tochallenge Demessieux's technique.57 In the area of organ building, they surveyedDupré's knowledge of organs in different countries along with somemajor treatises on organ building; each time a new phase of his own invention,a memory system of electric combination action, was installed on the Meudonorgan, they tested its possibilities.58 Dupré and Demessieux critiquedthe recent recitals of other organists and discussed strategies forDemessieux's career. She listened to Dupré, or Dupré andhis daughter Marguerite together, play the orchestral transcriptions he wrotefor their personal enjoyment and, in turn, the Duprés listened to anddiscussed Demessieux's organ compositions. Over a period of three years,she presented on the Meudon organ, before an audience of the Demessieux andDupré families, a series of twelve semi-formal recitals; occasionally, shewas asked to play for visiting close friends and relatives of theDuprés.59 As well, Dupré and Demessieux frequently discussed theprocess of musical composition, and theology vis-à-vis musicalcomposition. A significant amount of time was spent studying the Englishlanguage under Jeanne Dupré.
Affection, Admiration and Favoritism
Amidst all these activities, Demessieux and her parents wereaccepted en famille at meals and times of relaxation.
When members of the two families did not see each other fora couple of days, they were in contact by telephone. They attended concertstogether; when the concert was in a public recital hall, Demessieux, with orwithout her parents, might be a guest of the Duprés in their speciallyappointed box. The Duprés (husband and wife) and Demessieux'sparents treated each other as among the closest of friends. The three membersof the Dupré family bestowed on Jeanne the same formal gestures ofaffection they did upon each other. In her journal, after four years of thisrelationship, 'Madame Dupré' became 'Mammy'60(as distinct from 'Maman'); Marcel Dupré, however, shealways referred to by his complete name, his surname or, when she addressed him, as 'Master.'
While Jeanne and Marguerite Dupré were lavish in their compliments of Demessieux's musicality,61 Marcel Dupré was yet more lavish, bordering on fulsomeness in his praise.62 Nevertheless, there is no basis for doubting the utter sincerity of his remarks. The likely reasonfor their extravagance is that, being from a generation that believed it biologically impossible for the finest woman?s mind to equal the finest man's mind (as he had admittedly thought), he repeatedly found it difficult to believe his eyes and ears. The tone of his compliments of her musicianship make it evident that Dupré was overwhelmed with wonder: he was amazed byhis good fortune to have a student whose musical instincts and abilities were analogous to his; as well it was highly gratifying that, because of herconfidence in him and oneness of mind with him, she was willing to follow every detail of his instructions. Dupré was equally amazed by the combination of her appearance as a slightly-built woman, her expertise as a musician and her general intelligence. The change in atmosphere he had experienced--from artistic isolation to fruitful collaboration--created, I would argue, an elation similar to that of being romantically in love. To speculate that he also loved Demessieux in a way that amounted to disloyalty toward his spouse would seem gratuitous. Suffice it to say that Jeanne Dupré's warmth of manner toward one whom she had virtually made an adopted, second daughter,63 and her oneness of mind with her husband on the importance of Demessieux's career to the Duprés' purpose in life, hardly left room for her finding fault with her husband's rationally motivated absorption in his collaboration with a colleague. The organist Pierre Labric, who was at this time an acquaintance of the Duprés and a student of Demessieux, firmly believes that the later-rumored notion that Madame Dupré became jealous of Jeanne Demessieux is highly implausible.64
Other articles on Jeanne Demessieux:
The Legend of Jeanne Demessieux
Jeanne Demessieux American recital tours
An interview with Pierre Labric
Jeanne Demessieux's Stabat Mater