Movement 1: Prélude
Movement 2: Sicilienne
Movement 3: Toccata
Duruflé felt uneasy about having his works published lest they prove to be imperfect in some way. The composer grew to dislike the Toccata and he refused to perform it for the recordings he made with his wife, having expressed his dissatisfaction with it. He revised the score and added a new ending at a later date.
The Suite is a remarkable achievement: the opening Prélude maintains its brooding character by sustaining the dominant of E flat minor, giving rise to the sensation that something almost ominous awaits the listener. The Sicilienne is strongly Ravellian in character, whilst the demanding Toccata has been described as ‘one of the best examples—if not the best and most satisfying—of the many French movements of its kind’.
Duruflé visited London in 1938 at the request of the Organ Music Society to play his Suite at Christ Church, Woburn Square, and supplied the following note about the work:
The Prélude, which is sombre in character, is composed in the form of a diptych. A single theme, presented in three successive expositions, gradually accumulates the power of the organ. The second part consists of a long recitative, developing the first notes of the theme.
The Sicilienne is of classic construction, comprising three statements of the main theme and two episodes. The contrasting of timbres and a quest for colour have been the composer’s aim, as well as putting into relief the evocative character becoming to this style of piece.
The Toccata, which is in ternary form, begins with a short introduction, preparatory to the entry of the rhythmic and vigorous principal theme, which is given to the pedals. In the middle section, a second theme appears, and is later combined with the first. Finally, a return to the opening measures, and a brilliant conclusion with the second theme.
from notes by William McVicker © 1990