by Tom Hall
This month we remember the life, career, and teaching of organist Marie-Claire Alain (1926-2013). Marie-Claire Alain was born into a musical family on August 10, 1926
in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris. Her father, Albert Alain was an accomplished organist and composer, having studied
with Gabriel Fauré, Guilmant, and Vierne. He was also an organ-builder of note, and built a rather unusual organ for the
family's residence. All three of her older siblings were musicians: Jehan (1911-1940) was a noted organist and composer.
He was killed during the opening months of World War II. Olivier (1918-1994) was a pianist and composer. Marie-Odile (1914-1937)
was a promising soprano when she was killed in a mountaineering accident, falling in the process of saving Olivier from a
Mme. Alain entered the Paris conservatory in 1944, studying organ with Marcel
Dupré and harmony with Maurice Duruflé. She made her recital debut in 1950, beginning a career that was astounding in its
artistry, scholarship, and teaching. She is the most recorded organist of all time, with over 260 albums to her credit, including
three sets of the complete organ works of J. S. Bach. By the 1980's she was know as as a specialist in seventeenth and eighteenth
century music, but also recorded works by Mendelssohn, Liszt, Vierne, and Poulenc. She had a special
affinity for the organ works of her brother Jehan.
Mme. Alain taught at the
Rueful-Malmaison Conservatoire and was the director of Organ Studies at the Conservatoire National dé Regoin in Paris. She
also taught at the Haarlem Summer organ academy and taught numerous master classes in Europe and North America. After her
father's death, she succeeded him as titular organist of at l'Eglise de Saint Germain-en-Laye, a post she held until her death.
Mme. Alain was a influential in the restoration of a number of historic organs, and was a supporter
of the organ reform movement of the twentieth century. She was a member of the Comission des Orgues des Monuments Historiques.
In any art form, the great artists are those that combine an exceptional technique
with superior knowledge of the theory and history of their art, as well as something more; something above and beyond that
which can be described in prose. Mme. Alain emphatically met these criteria. She will be missed; as a great organist and
teacher, as a scholar of music and the organ, and as the last member of an important musical family. But most of all, she
will be missed simply as a great artist.