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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66676
Recording details: June 1993
Turku (Abo) Cathedral, Finland
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Paul Niederberger
Release date: February 1994
Total duration: 4 minutes 27 seconds

'An organ, the mere sound of which can send shivers down the spine … breathtaking … another splendid disc as thrilling and truly spectacular as they, or anyone else for that matter, have so far produced' (Gramophone)

Litanies
composer
1937

Litanies  [4'27]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Jehan Alain was a near contemporary of the great composer and organist Olivier Messiaen, possibly rivalling his vision and genius, but Alain’s life was cut short when he was killed in action at the age of 29, just five days before France withdrew from World War II. He had received his first organ lessons from his father, and then progressed to the Paris Conservatoire. He became a brilliant keyboard player and a compulsive composer, who saw music as revelatory of states of the soul, and who was drawn to music’s power to create a sense of mystery rather than express emotions.

Litanies began as an organ piece called Phantasmagorie from which Alain drew some material for the later work which he originally called Supplications. The plainsong phrase which opens the music is repeated continually, propelled by a locomotive rhythm to an ecstatic climax. Alain once wrote about how to play Litanies. ‘You must create an impression of passionate incantation. Prayer is not a lament but a devastating tornado, flattening everything is its way. It is also an obsession. You must fill men’s ears with it, and God’s ears too! If you get to the end without feeling exhausted you have neither understood [Litanies] nor played it as I would want it.’

The score itself is headed with a quotation which can be related to the death of one of Alain’s sisters in 1937, the year in which it was written: ‘When the Christian soul is in distress and cannot find any fresh words to implore God’s mercy, it repeats the same prayer unceasingly with overwhelming faith. The limit of reason is past. It is faith alone which propels its ascent.’

from notes by Ian Carson © 1994

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