3rd February 1911
20th June 1940
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris, France
Jehan Alain was a French organist and composer.
His short career as a composer began in 1929, when Alain was 18, and lasted until the outbreak of the Second World War 10 years later. His output was influenced not only by the musical language of the earlier Claude Debussy and his contemporary Olivier Messiaen (seen in Le jardin suspendu, 1934), but also by an interest in the music, dance and philosophies of the far east (acquired at the Exposition coloniale internationale of 1931 and seen in Deux danses à Agni Yavishta, 1932, and Deuxième fantaisie, 1936), a renaissance of baroque music (seen in Variations sur un thème de Clément Janequin, 1937), and in jazz (seen in Trois danses of 1939).
He wrote choral music, including a Requiem mass, chamber music, songs and three volumes of piano music. But it is his organ music for which he is best known. His most famous work, Litanies, is prefaced with the text: Quand l’âme chrétienne ne trouve plus de mots nouveaux dans la détresse pour implorer la miséricorde de Dieu, elle répète sans cesse la même invocation avec une foi véhémente. La raison atteint sa limite. Seule la foi poursuit son ascension. ('When, in its distress, the Christian soul can find no more words to invoke God's mercy, it repeats endlessly the same litany....for reason has reached its limit; only faith can take one further...') Deuils ('mourning'), the second of the Trois danses, is dedicated to Odile as a Funeral Dance to an Heroic Memory.