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By age 12, Jeanne Demessieux was established as organist of the church of Saint Esprit in Paris. A long-term protégé of Marcel Dupré, she earned premiers prix in harmony, piano, organ, fugue, and counterpoint at the Paris Conservatoire. Her debut at the Salle Pleyel at age 25 was a series of 12 recitals in which she played (from memory) most of the then-established major works in the repertory, and improvised a 4-movement symphony. At the time of her death at age 47, she was organ professor at the Liège Conservatory and organist at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris. The first woman to give a recital in Westminster Abbey, Demessieux enjoyed a stupendous performing career and a reputation as a brilliant technican and improvisor. Reviews of her North American tours in 1953, 1955, and 1958 rarely fail to mention her virtuosic pedal-playing in high French heels.
Demessieux’s Chorale Preludes on Gregorian Themes, Opus 8, is a collection of 12 pieces, each in a different form, from ornamented cantus firmus to march. O Filii et Filiae is a Theme and Variations. Hosanna Filio David is a Chorale Fugue on fragments of the chant, with the melody augmented in the tenor. The eerie Domine Jesu is a Berceuse on a melody from the Requiem Mass. The Musette on Adeste Fideles presents a great opportunity to hear the harmonic flute and clarinet stops on St. Justin’s Kilgen. The Toccata on Veni Creator is a marvelously clever treatment of the chant. Aside from the theme’s appearance in half-note values first in the tenor, then in the soprano, it is also comprises much of the toccata figuration. The piece begins with a 2-part canon by augmentation and concludes with a 3-part canon, also using augmentation. This collection was published in 1950 by McLaughlin and Reilly in Boston. Though that company is no longer extant, copies of Opus 8 may be found in many school music libraries.