Jehan Alain

Alain was born in 1911 into a family of musicians in the western suburbs of Paris. His father, Albert Alain (1880–1971) was an organist, composer and organ builder who had studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne. His younger brother was the composer, organist and pianist Olivier Alain (1918–1994), and his youngest sister the organist Marie-Claire Alain (1926-2013). Jehan received his initial training in the piano and the organ from his father, who had built a four-manual instrument in the family sitting room. Between 1927 and 1939, he attended the Paris Conservatoire and achieved First Prize in Harmony and First Prize in Fugue under André Bloch. He studied the organ with Marcel Dupré, under whose direction he took first prize for Organ and Improvisation in 1939. He was appointed organist of Saint-Nicholas de Maisons Laffitte in Paris in 1935, and remained there until his early death. Alain’s compositional output was influenced not only by the musical language of the Impressionist Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Olivier Messiaen, but also by an interest in the music, dance and philosophies of the far east and in jazz, a prominent feature of Parisian life between the two world wars. He wrote choral music and piano music, but it is his organ music for which he is best known. Always interested in mechanics, Alain was a fanatical motorcyclist and became a dispatch rider in the Eighth Motorised Armoured Division of the French Army. On 20 June 1940, he was assigned to reconnoitre the German advance on the eastern side of Saumur, 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 opened fire on the enemy troops killing 16 of them, before being killed himself. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery and was buried with full military honours. Maurice Duruflé wrote a musical tribute to Jehan Alain with his Prélude et fugue sur le nom d'A.L.A.I.N op. 7 for organ.