Viscount Organs is happy to bring you another installation of our Famous Organists Blog Series, this time examining an amazing organist, Jeanne Demessieux.
At Viscount Organs, we’re extremely passionate about paying homage to organists who have greatly impacted the world of organ music and to keeping those artists’ legacies alive.
A Pianist Turns Organist
Jeanne Demessieux was born in Montpellier, France on February 13, 1921. She got her start with music via the piano, taking lessons from Yolande, her older sister. In 1928, she entered the Montpellier Conservatory to further her studies of the piano and solfege.
By 1932, Demessiuex’s virtuosic abilities were becoming evident. After only four years at the Montpellier Conservatory, she had won the first prize in piano, as well as the first prize in solfege.
Her success at the Montpellier Conservatory led her to enroll in the prestigious Paris Conservatoire to further her musical education in 1933. Her musical studies continued to focus on piano, and she added harmony, composition, and counterpoint and fugue to her musical endeavors.
Although Demessieux had not focused her musical education on the organ, she assumed the position of titulaire at Paris’ Saint-Esprit church the same year that she joined the Paris Conservatoire. This began the 29 year period that Demessieux held this position!
Now that Demessieux was officially an organist, she began including the organ in her musical education. From 1936 to 1939, Demessieux was involved in private organ lessons with none other than Marcel Dupré.
Then, after her 3 years of private pipe organ lessons from Marcel Dupré, she enrolled in his organ and improvisation class at the Paris Conservatoire. Clearly, her training was paying off — in 1941, she earned the first prize from the Paris Conservatoire for organ and improvisation.
A Famous Organist
After studying the organ and improvisation in Dupré’s classes at the Paris Conservatoire, Demessieux continued her private lessons under Dupré for 5 years following her first prize achievement.
Then in 1946, Demessieux made her debut performance as a concert organist in Paris’ Salle Pleyel concert hall. This was the beginning of her extremely successful career as a recitalist. By the end of her career, she had performed over 700 times, both in France as well as internationally.
Although Demessieux was extremely busy performing pipe organ recitals, she also committed to contributing her immense knowledge and skills to the world of pipe organ education. She served as the professor of organ at the Nancy Conservatoire in 1950, and held the positon until 1952, when she assumed the same position at Liege’s Conservatoire Royal, a post she held until she passed away in 1968.
In 1962, she left her position as the titulaire at the Saint-Esprit church after 29 years to assume the position of titulaire at La Madeleine church, which was also in Paris. She held this position until her death in 1968.
Demessieux lived a life dedicated to the art form of pipe organ music. She made a monumental impact through her performing and her teaching, however she also left a legacy behind that can still be marveled at today. Demessieux was known to be extremely skilled at memorizing musical arrangements. So much so, that before she died she had memorized over 2,500 works.
Yes, 2,500 works — It’s absolutely remarkable! What’s more? She memorized the complete works of Dupré, Liszt, Franck, Bach, and Mendelssohn. She was even contracted and working on recording the complete works of Messiaen when she died.
Additionally, while Demessieux was primarily recognized for her concert performances, she recorded a hefty body of pipe organ music. She earned the Grand Prix du Disque for her complete recordings of Franck in 1960, and Festivo, the label to which she was signed, has re-released some of her original recordings.
It’s a dream of ours here at Viscount Organs to inspire and enable talented organists around the world to both commit their skills to the world of organ music, and continue pushing the culture forward.
By revisiting the legacies of the famous organists we study in this blog series, organists like the incredible Jeanne Demessieux, we’re constantly inspired and excited to see what’s next for organists and organ makers alike.
If you enjoyed this blog, are interested in learning more, or want to try one of our legendary organs for yourself, contact Viscount Organs today!