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Duruflé, Maurice (1902-1986)

Maurice Duruflé

born: 11 January 1902
died: 16 June 1986
country: France

Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986) was born in Louviers. Between 1910 and 1918 he attended Rouen Cathedral Choir School. Rouen produced Marcel Dupré (1886–1971) and is also the home of the magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ at St Ouen installed by the builder between 1888 and 1890. Duruflé could hardly have failed to have been influenced by that instrument and those who played it; his attraction to the organ and his love of Gregorian chant were established when the composer was a chorister. In 1919 he moved to Paris in order to study the organ with Charles Tournemire, whose deputy he later became at Ste Clothilde, and Louis Vierne, who was then organist at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. That study was in preparation for his admission to the Paris Conservatoire, which he entered in the following year, where he studied organ with Eugène Gigout, who was by then in his seventy-sixth year. There is no doubt that his exposure to the genius of both Tournemire and Vierne in their respective organ lofts had a formative influence; Duruflé was to retain his admiration for these two masters for the rest of his life.

Duruflé gained the premier prix in organ in 1922 and went on to win premiers prix in harmony in 1924 (Jean Gallon’s class), fugue in the same year (Caussade’s class), accompaniment in 1926 (Estyle’s class) and composition in 1928. Duruflé’s composition teacher was Paul Dukas who, like Tournemire and Vierne, was to exert a lifelong influence over Duruflé’s creative output.

In 1930 Maurice Duruflé was appointed organist of St Étienne-du-Mont, a post he shared with his wife Marie-Madeleine Duruflé-Chevalier from 1953 and one which he was to hold until 1975, when he suffered a bad car accident which was to prevent him from composing for the rest of his life. In the same year, 1930, Duruflé won the first prize offered by ‘Les Amis de l’Orgue’ for his Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le thème du «Veni Creator», Op 4, having won the first prizes offered by the same society for organ performance and improvisation; the score is inscribed ‘in affectionate homage to my master Louis Vierne’. In this work some of the characteristics of Duruflé’s music are manifest. The work is strongly influenced not only by the Gregorian plainsong theme which is heard at the outset of the work, but also by the shapes of the plainsong phrases; the composer had a fascination with plainsong which is best described by Duruflé himself, but here in connection with what is perhaps his best-known work, the Requiem of 1947: ‘As a general rule, I have above all tried to feel deeply the particular style of the Gregorian themes: and I have done my best to reconcile as far as possible the Gregorian rhythmic patterns, as fixed by the Benedictines of Solesmes, with the demands of the modern bar-structure.’ Duruflé shared with Fauré (sometimes called ‘le grégorianisant voluptueux’—the voluptuous gregorianist) a love of the shapes and colour of plainsong.

In 1936 Duruflé won the Blumenthal Foundation Prize for his Trois Danses for orchestra, Op 6, and he was further honoured by the Department of the Seine who awarded him their Grand Prix Musical in 1956. In 1961 he received the Vatican citation of Commander in the Order of St Gregory for the contribution he had made to sacred music. In addition to publishing articles on church music, and his post as Titulaire at St Étienne-du-Mont, Duruflé had deputized for Louis Vierne between 1929 and 1931 at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. He also deputized for Marcel Dupré’s class at the Paris Conservatoire in 1942 where, in the following year, he was appointed professor of harmony, a post he held until 1969.

M and Mme Duruflé were almost killed in May 1975 in a car accident near Valence, whilst driving home. A car hit them head-on and both suffered extensive injuries. Mme Duruflé regained her phenomenal powers as a keyboard executant, although M Duruflé was only partially to recover and the accident sadly ended his professional career. On 16 June 1986, Maurice Duruflé died at the age of eighty-four, having been in hospital for several months. As a tribute to his life and work, the composer’s Requiem, Op 9, was performed at a memorial service on October 11th in the same year.

As a performer, Duruflé toured extensively, visiting North Africa, Russia and North America, writing about his experiences in an article entitled ‘USA–USSR’, which was published in the French journal L’orgue. He also championed the music of his teachers, publishing Trois Improvisations by Louis Vierne in 1954 and Cinq Improvisations by Tournemire in 1958, having reconstructed the works from gramophone recordings made in the 1930s. Amongst his own recordings is a performance of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, a work of which he had given the premiere of in 1938, having advised the composer on the details of the organ part. Duruflé made a number of other recordings, including several in America, as well as recordings of his own music with his wife in Soissons Cathedral and at St Étienne-du-Mont in Paris.

Composition was a difficult task for Duruflé and his music was constantly revised. Even after a substantial length of time had elapsed subsequent to the composition of a work, Duruflé seems to have been unable to resist a critical reappraisal of his work. There can be few composers who have devoted so much of their life to such a small number of compositions. By the same virtue there can be few composers who have produced such high-quality workmanship in their creative output, and whose complete work contains so much interest and variety.

from notes by William McVicker © 1990

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