Hi there! Welcome back to our favorite blog series on famous organists! We appreciate the interest and readership of these blogs. It’s truly inspiring to know that people are interested in learning about the amazing lives of the people who made the pipe organ what it is today.
Today, we’ll be once again discussing a French organist who left a major impact on pipe organ music as we know it. Keep reading to learn more about the life and legacy of Jean Langlais!
The Early Life Of Jean Langlais
By the age of two, Jean Langlais was blind. As you’ll soon learn, that didn’t hold him back from being an amazing, influential figure. Langlais was born February 15, 1907 in La Fontenelle, a small town in Brittany, France. In 1918, he began attending the Paris National Institute for the Young Blind, where he began his training as an organist with another legendary blind pipe organist, André Marchal.
Although he began his studies of the pipe organ at the Paris National Institute for the Young Blind, he also took on a number of other musical endeavors. In addition to his organ studies, Langlais also studied harmony, violin, and piano.
An Organist Emerges
While Langlais was at the Paris National Institute for the Young Bling, he excelled at his musical studies, specifically the organ. In fact, he was such a promising organist that he began attending the Paris Conservatoire in 1930 to further his education surrounding the pipe organ.
At the Paris Conservatoire, Langlais was able to study with some pipe organ and improvisation superstars like Marcel Dupré, Paul Dukas, and Charles Tournemire. Like many of the other prodigious musicians we’ve discussed previously, Langlais excelled at the Paris Conservatoire, racking up awards throughout his attendance.
His first year attending the Conservatoire, Langlais earned first prize in the pipe organ category. In 1931, he earned first prize in the pipe organ and improvisation, and in 1934 he earned the first prize in composition before his graduation.
An Important Educator
While Langlais has a legacy surrounding his compositions for the organ, we particularly admire his commitment to music education. Upon his graduation from the acclaimed Paris Conservatoire, Langlais returned to his alma mater, the Paris National Institute for the Young Blind, this time as an instructor.
In a world where more buzz is surrounding the conversation regarding representation, we think that Langlais is especially inspiring and important. His return to the Paris National Institute for the Young Blind meant that he was serving as an example of a successful blind organist for the generations following him. Not only that, but he also held the position of professor at the Paris National Institute for the Blind for 40 years, making him a consistent, influential member of the institution.
In addition to teaching at the Paris National Institute for the Young Blind, Langlais taught at the Paris Schola Cantorum from 1961-1976, where he taught and influenced a number of other successful musicians such as Kathleen Thomerson, a notable American organist. Interestingly enough, Thomerson actually ended up writing a bio-bibliography on Langlais.
Langlais’ Musical Legacy
While it’s incredibly important to note Langlais’ impact as an educator, it’d be an injustice if we failed to mention his legacy as an organist. Like many other keynote organists, Langlais held the position of titulaire for an extended period of his life. He was a titulaire at Paris’ Sainte-Clotilde starting in 1945. This is truly indicative of his prowess at the organ considering the like of César Franck and Langlais’ previous instructor, Charles Tournemire were the two previous titulaires there. Langlais was the titulaire from 1945-1987.
In addition to holding position as a notable titulaire, Langlais was an accomplished composer and performer. In fact, he composed over 250 opus numbers and performed over 300 times (in North America alone). His Messe solennelle and Missa Salve Regina are recognized as his most famous compositions, but he has plenty of compositions in his catalogue that have been praised, appreciated, and recited — even still today.
Langlais passed away in 1991, leaving behind a legendary legacy.
At Viscount Organs, we can’t get enough of the history surrounding pipe organs and pipe organists. If you’re interested in learning more about famous organists of the past, check out our blog! And if you’re looking to acquire a state-of-the-art Viscount Organ of your own, contact us today!