1926 — 2013
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Marie-Claire Alain was the youngest child in a family of distinguished musicians, born August 10, 1926, in St. Germain-en Laye, a Paris suburb. Her father, Albert Alain, a composer and amateur organ builder, had been a pupil of Guilmant and Fauré. Her sister Odile was a promising soprano and pianist who lost her life early in a mountaineering accident; her older brother, Olivier, was a composer, pianist, and musicologist. Her oldest brother was the renowned Jehan Alain, a composer and organist whose teachers included Dupré, Dukas, and Jean Roger-Ducasse. He numbered Messiaen and Poulenc among his closest friends and his works for organ -- Litanies, in particular -- established him as one of the brightest stars among rising French composers in the decade before his battlefield death in 1940, at 29. A twin sense of loss and inheritance informed her studies and career.
With the allied liberation of Paris in August 1944, she entered the Paris Conservatoire, studying with Dupré for organ, Pié-Caussade for counterpoint and fugue, and Maurice Duruflé for harmony. Duruflé composed one of the finest of his small but masterly group of organ works as an hommage to Marie-Claire's brother, the Prélude et fugue sur le nom d'Alain, Op. 7 (1942). She studied with Duruflé from 1944 until 1950, schoolwork being augmented by private lessons. During her Conservatoire years, she carried off four Premier Prix. After the inauguration of her career in 1950, she took a prize for organ at the Geneva International Competition and gave her first public recital. The Amis de Orgue awarded her the Bach Prize in 1951. After a further two years of study with Gaston Litaize, she took up her career in earnest, giving well over 2000 recitals worldwide. Her recordings number in the hundreds, and she thrice recorded the complete organ works of Bach. By the 1980s, she had become known as a specialist in 17th and 18th century music, with numerous recordings of works by Couperin, Grigny, Daquin, Vivaldi, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Handel, C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart -- among many others -- to her credit. But she also made distinguished recordings of Romantic repertoire with albums of works by Mendelssohn, César Franck, Liszt, Widor, Vierne, Poulenc, and Jehan Alain -- whose punctilious execution is suffused with passion -- carrying into the 21st century living traditions extending to the middle of the 19th. She was also much in demand as a teacher.