Today it’s an 100% organic edition of my Book of Days series! That’s right, both of these entries have to do with pipe organs!
Today is the birthday of Organist/Composer Marcel Dupré, born in 1886. Dupré was a musical prodigy from childhood, and was born into something of a perfect storm for a French organ genius. When Marcel was 14 years old, his father Albert commissioned Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (The still undisputed master of French Symphonic organ building) to furnish the Dupré house with an organ. Within four years of that instrument being installed, Dupré was enrolled at the Conservatoir de Paris where he would study under a panoply of the finest organists, composers, improvisors and theorists France had ever produced. Among Dupré’s mentors were such leading lights as Louis Vierne, Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor, who he would succeed as the organist at the famed Cavaillé-Coll organ at Église Saint-Sulpice, Paris. Dupré was as prolific as he was brilliant, producing a substantial body of composition and volumes of written works on topics including organ building, counterpoint, fugue theory, accoustics, and improvisation (twice). As one examines the rich tapestry of French organ genius, one cannot escape feeling that all threads are connected to Dupré, those of the upper echelons who were not his mentors were invariably his students.
One of those students shared his birthday; Virgil Fox born today in 1912 in Princeton Illinois, would become perhaps the best known and most controversial organist of the 20th century. Known for his extravagant and highly romanticized performances of the works of J.S. Bach, Fox toured the world in a flashy cape putting on concerts under the banner of “HEAVY ORGAN” which were meant to appeal to a general public more comfortable with rock and roll, for whom the organ had distinctly churchly connotations. Fox’s concerts featured light shows, audience participation, and frequent colorful commentary from Fox himself, who rarely missed an opportunity to tweak the organ orthodoxy by the nose. His palpable contempt for traditional and historical performance practice riled the organ community, while his obvious technical mastery and near-instant recall of a catalog of hundreds of organ works from memory made him difficult to dismiss as a mere entertainer. Arguments over Fox’s legacy continue to this day but it can be truthfully said that there are many fans of organ music today who would never have become so without him.