Jehan Alain is the focus of this Famous Organists blog. Although his life wasn’t long, he achieved many a musical accomplishment, and died a heroic death in World War II. Keep reading to learn more!
A Family of Organists
Born into the Alain family on February 11, 1911, Jehan Alain was the son of the brilliant organist Albert Alain, and his younger sister Maire-Claire Alain also matured into a highly revered and recognized organist herself.
Jehan started his musical endeavors by participating in piano lessons with Augustin Pierson as his teacher. Additionally, he began learning the organ from his father, and was able to practice on a homemade organ of Albert Alain’s creation that was in his family’s living room.
In 1927, Jehan began attending the Paris Conservatoire, where he excelled in organ and improvisation classes under the instruction of the master organist, Marcel Dupré. He studied at the institution until 1939, the same year that he earned the first prize in organ and improvisation.
To expound on his achievements in organ, in 1936 his composition, Suite for Organ Op. 48, Introduction, Variations, Scherzo and Choral earned him the Prix de Amis de L’orgue.
During his time at the Paris Conservatoire, Alain also focused his academic endeavors on harmony and fugue, for both of which he also earned the first prize. Additionally, he assumed the position of organist in Paris’ Eglise Saint-Nicolas de Maisons-Laffitte, a post he held from 1935-1939.
Along with his commitment to Eglise Saint-Nicolas de Maisons-Laffitte, Alain would frequently play the organ at a Parisian synagogue by the name of Rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth. In fact, the only existing recording of Jehan Alain’s work (that we know of) was a 1938 improvisation he played at the synagogue.
A Heroic End
Jehan put a halt to his organ playing in 1939 due to the second World War. Interestingly enough, Jehan had a passion for mechanics and motorcycles, so he was naturally enlisted into the French army as a motorcyclist in the Eighth Motorised Armour Division.
He was killed on June 20, 1940 after coming upon a group of Nazi soldiers while scouting the enemy’s advance. Amazingly, he spotted them before they found him, left his bike on the side of the road, and engaged the Nazi soldiers. He was able to kill 16 Nazis before they overwhelmed him, taking his life. He was awarded the French military’s award for bravery, the Croix de Guerre, after his death.
It’s truly incredible that in his 29 years of life, Jehan Alain left such an impressive and large body of work. What’s more, is that his widely recognized works are his compositions for the pipe organ, most famously his 1937 work, Litanies.
At Viscount Organs, we love diving into the unique, influential histories of the organists who put organ music on the map. We also love making the best organs in the world! Get in contact with Viscount Organs today to get your hands on one of our awesome organs!