Jehan Alain Biography (BBC)
Jehan Alain (whose medieval-looking first name is pronounced simply as 'Jean') was one of those people who lived fast as if knowing it would not be for long. Not yet 30 when he met his end, he had already produced a large output, especially of music for organ (his own instrument) and piano. He was also married by then, with three children.
He was born in 1911, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, outside Paris, where his father Albert, a pupil of Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne, was organist. Albert Alain had an organ installed at home, and all four of his children learnt to play it. The youngest of them, Marie-Claire (b. 1926), went on to a long international career as an organist.
Jehan entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1927 and stayed until 1939, studying with the organist-composer Marcel Dupré, who also taught Messiaen, and with Paul Dukas and Jean Roger-Ducasse. Messiaen, just over two years older, provided a role-model. Both young men were determined to steer the French organ tradition on into troubled times; both were excited by Catholic theology, by modality (Alain finding new life in the old modes of plainchant), by the rhythms and harmonies of jazz and also by the Asian music they encountered at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale in 1931.
Like Messiaen, Alain found his musical voice while still in his teens, though nothing was published until 1938-9, when a few of his organ pieces, already numerous, appeared in print. Meanwhile, in 1935, he had gained the position of organist at Saint-Nicolas in Maisons-Laffitte, not far from the parental home.
Two years later his sister Marie-Odile died in a mountaineering accident, an event that shook this very close family. Alain wrote his Litanies as an angry cry for help and composed a ‘funeral dance to honour a heroic memory’, which became the centrepiece of his Trois danses for organ, a work he planned to transcribe for orchestra.
The war frustrated that plan. A keen motorcyclist, he joined up as a dispatch rider. In June 1940 he was sent on a reconnaissance mission near Saumur, encountered a group of German soldiers, and was shot. Five days later France capitulated.
Most of Alain’s organ works were published only after his death, and several soon became standards of the repertory, among them Le jardin suspendu (1934) and the virtuoso Deuxime fantaisie (1936), as well as Litanies (1937). He also left some songs and sacred pieces.
Profile © Paul Griffiths
Jehan Alain Biography (Wikipedia)
Jehan Ariste Alain (3 February 1911 – 20 June 1940) was a French organist and composer.
Jehan Alain Tracks