The Kennedy Center

Suite Op. 5

About the Work

Maurice Duruflé Composer: Maurice Duruflé
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Maurice Duruflé was born on January 11, 1902 in Normandy, in the town of Louviers, just south of Rouen, whose cathedral had been the subject of Monet's incomparable series of light studies a decade earlier. At the age of ten, Duruflé joined the Rouen Cathedral choir and entered its school, where he studied general subjects as well as piano, organ, voice and theory for the next six years. In 1919, he moved to Paris to study organ privately with Charles Tournemire, one of Franck's last pupils, and he served as Tournemire's assistant for eleven years. In 1920, Duruflé entered the Paris Conservatoire, going on to earn first prizes in organ, harmony, accompaniment, fugue and composition at that institution. He also studied organ with Louis Vierne, and deputized for him at Notre Dame between 1929 and 1931; in 1930, Duruflé was appointed chief organist at St. Etienne-du-Mont. In 1942, he substituted at the Conservatoire for Marcel Dupré, and the following year he was appointed professor of harmony at the school, a position he held until 1969. Throughout his life, he also appeared widely as an organ virtuoso. He died on June 16, 1986 in Louveciennes, near Paris, a year after sustaining severe injuries in a car accident that ended his professional career.

Duruflé composed his Suite for Organ in 1932 and dedicated the score to his composition teacher, Paul Dukas. The Prélude is music of somber cast and steady tread that swells to a climax before quieting to admit a calm, lyrical strain. The movement closes with a hushed reminiscence of the somber opening music. The Sicilienne is based on a lilting, pastoral melody whose returns are separated by brooding episodes in the nature of meditations on the theme. The finale is a brilliant Toccata (from the Italian word "toccare"-"to touch" the keys in a virtuosic fashion) of almost orchestral sonority and range of colors that British organist and music scholar Gwilym Beechey in his study of Duruflé's organ music called "one of the best examples-if not the best and most satisfying- of the many French movements of its kind."