In the next installment of our Famous Organists blog series, we will be taking a look at the incredible Marie-Claire Alain.

A Family of Organists

On August 10, 1926, Marie-Claire Alain was born near Paris, France, into a prodigious family of organists and musicians. Her father, Albert Alain, composed for the organ, built organs, and played the organ for his local parish. Her brother, Jehan Alain, was also an organist and composer who was recognized for his skill. Additionally, Odile and Olivier Alain, Marie-Claire’s other siblings, were talented musicians. 

An Impressive Career

Beginning her relationship with the organ at 11 years old, Marie-Clare assisted her father with his organ playing duties at their local parish, beginning her life as an organist. 

With France’s liberation from the Axis powers in 1944, Marie-Claire was able to attend the Conservatoire de Paris where she studied the organ under Marcel Dupré, counterpoint and fugue under Pié-Caussade, and harmony under Maurice Duruflé.

She studied at the Conservatoire de Paris until 1950, earning 4 Premier Prix (high-honors degrees) in her musical fields. Upon graduating, she began her career with her debut performance at the Geneva Music Competition, where she earned second prize for the organ.

Les Amis d’Orgue bestowed Alain with the Bach Prize for her organ playing shortly thereafter in 1951. With a strong start to her career as an organist, Marie-Claire began to make her lasting impact on organ music. 

An Unmatched Legacy

The main contributions Marie-Claire made to the organ world was her copious amounts of recordings. By the time of her death in February, 2013, Alain had created well over 260 recordings of organ compositions as well as over 2000 organ recitals around the globe. 

Perhaps her most notable series of recordings, Alain recorded the complete organ works of the amazing J.S. Bach not once, not twice, but three, yes three times! When asked why she decided to record Bach’s complete works three times, she famously said this:

“It’s because of the instruments, the instruments above everything else, and the fine state to which they have been restored—and the fact that they are now accessible. These recordings use instruments from Bach’s time, and we know that Bach even played some of them—it’s an extraordinary feeling, to put your hands on the keyboard, knowing that he was there 250 years before you!”

Although her complete works of Bach recordings may be among her most recognized, Alain recorded a plethora of classic organ compositions, so much so that she was eventually considered the living authority on seventeenth and eighteenth century organ music. 

In addition to creating a legacy via her recordings, Marie-Claire Alain influenced many an organist during her years teaching at the Paris Conservatory and the Conservatory of Rueil-Malmaison. Among some of her pupils were George C. Baker, Diane Bish, Guy Bovet, and James David Christie (to only name a few).

After her lengthy, accomplished career, Alain returned to the parish where she first began her organ playing to take over as the organist following her father’s passing in 1971. She did this for 40 years. 

When Alain died in 2013, she was recognized by her students and peers as the “who’s who of the present day organ world.” 

Furthering the Organ’s Legacy

At Viscount Organs, we’re dedicated to keeping the rich history and culture of the organ alive. That’s why we work so hard to further the technology of the organ while staying true to its magnificent legacy. If you’re interested in trying one of our exquisite organs for yourself, contact us today! We look forward to hearing from you.