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Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968)

Jeanne Demessieux was born in Montpellier in 1921. Her elder sister Yolande taught her piano from the age of three and by seven she had enrolled at the local Conservatoire going on to win first prizes in piano and solfege. The family subsequently moved to Paris to enable Jeanne to further her musical education and in 1933 she began studying at the Paris Conservatoire taking lessons in piano, harmony and counterpoint and composition.That same year she also became the titular organist at the church of St Esprit, the youngest titulaire in Paris and a post she was to hold for 29 years.

Demessieux excelled at the Conservatoire but it was her meeting Marcel Dupre (1886-1971) in 1936 that was to be the defining moment of her musical development. Professor of organ at the Conservatoire and titular organist at the famous church of St Sulpice he was the pre-eminent figure in French organ music at that time. Demessieux studied privately with him until 1939 when she enrolled in his organ class. It was to prove a fruitful partnership. In Dupre she had an inspirational teacher and in her he saw someone who could carry the torch for the French organ school in the years to come. She won first prize for organ performance and improvisation in 1941 and continued her postgraduate studies with Dupre for a further five years building up an extensive repertoire and formidable improvisation and memory skills.

It was in February 1946 that she finally gave her debut recital at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, a triumphant occasion that launched her career as an international recitalist. The collaboration with Dupre however ceased suddenly later that year, possibly the result of interfactional squabbling among the Parisien organ elite. Notwithstanding the split her career made rapid strides with extensive tours throughout Europe and North America and an enviable portfolio of recordings. She also brought an air of glamour to the profession. Her pedal technique was by all accounts breathtaking; playing in stiletto shoes she managed pedal scales at a speed that many players would find difficult with their hands.

Demessieux became Professor of Organ at Nancy in 1950 and at the Brussels Conservatoire in 1952 and in 1962 was appointed titular organist at La Madeleine in Paris. By then however her health was giving cause for concern and although she signed a contract to record Messiaen's complete organ works in 1967 her tragically early death in November 1968 at the age of 47 meant the project never came to fruition.

jeanne demessieux

The Art of Jeanne Demessieux

These are recordings of Jeanne Demessiuex early in her career playing the organs of the Victoria Hall, Geneva and St Mark's, North Audley Street, London. Her concert career took off after she separated late in 1946 from her teacher Marcel Dupre. The recordings made in St Mark's in May 1947 were the first of her recordings for Decca made in St Marks and subsequently in the Victoria Hall, Geneva.

  • Recorded in St Mark's North Audley Street:
    • Charles-Marie Widor Symphony No. 5 in F minor Op.42 No 1 - Toccata (allegro) [listen]
    • Jeramiah Clarke (ascribed to Henry Purcell) Trumpet Tune in D [listen]
    • Felix Medelssohn Organ Sonata No 3 in A major Op.65 No. 3 - 1. Con moto maestoso [listen]
  • Recorded in the Victoria Hall, Geneva:
    • J. S. Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542 [listen]
    • J. S. Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 [listen]
    • Franz Liszt Fantasie und Fuge uber den "Ad nos ad salutarem undam" [listen]
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      jeanne demessieux liszt
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    • Charles-Marie Widor Variations on Symphony No. 9 "Gothique" Op.70 [listen]
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