For Marie-Claire Alain…
I was never a very good organist. I got my Grade 8 from the ABRSM by the skin of my teeth, and only by playing three of the easiest works I possibly could, including one by Jean Langlais that always brought me out in a cold sweat.
In my final year at school I played the hymns at our assemblies, and I played at a school concert that celebrated the refitting of our (hopeless) organ. As a sign of my lack of talent, I chose Bach’s tiny C Minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 549, played with my left leg shaking horribly on the first note of the pedal solo despite a sneaked glass of wine beforehand.
All I needed to do to underline the fugal entries, John said, was keep in mind one of Marie-Claire’s many aide-memoires for how those themes sounded: in this case, “Uncle Fred has lost his trousers.”
Alain was the teacher of so many in the great French line of organists, including Daniel Roth, and indeed many outside it. She kept the flame of her brother, Jehan Alain, through virtuosic playing, while remaining committed to a Bach tradition of deep humanity, even in front of the behemoth Cavaillé-Coll instruments she so often played.
She leaves behind a vast recorded legacy, including three full Bach cycles, and an organ world full of her students. She played on the first CD I ever bought, and so in part she also bears responsibility for something much more personal: my love of all things musical.
For that, I cannot thank her enough.