This Sunday’s organ music was selected in remembrance of veteran’s from all wars.
Jehan Alain’s short career as a composer began in 1929, when Alain was 18, and lasted until the outbreak of the Second World War 10 years later. He wrote choral music, including a Requiem mass, chamber music, songs and three volumes of piano music. But it is his organ music for which he is best known. His most famous work is Litanies, composed in 1937. That work is prefaced with the text: “When, in its distress, the Christian soul can find no more words to invoke God’s mercy, it repeats endlessly the same litany….for reason has reached its limit; only faith can take one further…”). Fellow French composer Maurice Duruflé wrote an organ piece as an homage to Alain entitled “Prelude and Fugue on the Name of Alain” which quotes themes from Alain’s piece “Litanies.” His sister Marie-Claire championed his organ works in her career throughout the 20th century as an international concert artist.
Always interested in mechanics, Alain was a skilled motorcyclist and became a dispatch rider in the Eighth Motorised Armour Division of the French Army in World War II. On 20 June 1940, he was assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on the eastern side of Saumur in western France, and encountered a group of German soldiers at Le Petit-Puy. Coming around a curve, and hearing the approaching tread of the Germans, he abandoned his motorcycle and engaged the enemy troops with his carbine, killing 16 of them before being killed himself, He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery, and according to Nicolas Slonimsky was buried, by the Germans, with full military honours.