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Jeanne Demessieux (Organ, Composer)

Born: February 13, 1921 - Montpellier, southern France
Died: November 11, 1968 - Paris, France

The French organist, pianist, composer, and pedagogue, Jeanne Marie-Madeleine Demessieux, was the second child of Marie-Madeleine Mézy and Étienne Demessieux. After taking private piano lessons with her elder sister, Yolande, Jeanne entered the Montpellier Conservatory in 1928. Four years later, in 1932, she obtained first prizes in solfège and piano. In 1933, Demessieux was enrolled as student at the Paris Conservatory; studying piano with Simon Riera and Magda Tagliaferro, harmony with Jean Gallon, counterpoint and fugue with Noël Gallon, and composition with Henri Büsser.

The same year, 1923, Jeanne Demessieux was appointed titular organist at Saint-Esprit (12th arondissement), a post she held for 29 years. Between 1936 and 1939, she studied organ privately with Marcel Dupré, whose organ class at the Conservatoire she joined in 1939. After receiving a first prize in organ performance and improvisation in 1941, Demessieux studied five more years privately with Marcel Dupré in Meudon, before she played her début recital at Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1946. This was the beginning of her career as an international recitalist. She played more than 700 concerts in Europe and the USA. Demessieux had a prodigious memory: she had memorized more than 2,500 works, including the complete organ works of J.S. Bach, César Franck, Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn and Marcel Dupré.

In 1962, Jeanne Demessieux was appointed titular organist at La Madeleine in Paris. In addition, she was Professor of organ at Nancy Conservatoire (1950-1952) and the Conservatoire Royal in Liège, Belgium (1952-1968). Owing to health problems, Demessieux was obliged to limit her performance activities during the mid-1960s. In 1967, she signed a contract with the Decca label for a complete recording of Olivier Messiaen's organ works. Owing to her untimely death in 1968 the project was never realized.

Jeanne Demessieux died on November 11, 1968, due to an embolism, in Paris. She left a large catalogue of compositions. Aside from her organ compositions, she wrote pieces for piano, numerous songs and choir works including an oratorio, Chanson de Roland, and orchestral works. Only one third of her catalogue, which consists of more than 30 compositions, has been published to date.

Jeanne Demessieux made numerous recordings, including the complete organ works of César Franck, which was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque in 1960. The Dutch label Festivo has re-released several recordings of Jeanne Demessieux on CD, including her recording of César Franck's complete organ works from 1958.

"In the world of the arts a fairy tale evokes either annoyance or delight.But one must believe it, when the unique and prodigious character happens to be a young lady, 24 years of age, who from the very first moment of her public appearance manifested herself as the irresistable absolute perfection." - It was by these warm words that Bernard Gavoty (under the pseudonym of Clarendon in his column in Le Figaro) expressed his appreciation about the recital given by Jeanne Demessieux on February 25, 1946 on the great organ of the Salle Pleyel in Paris.

Source: Wikipedia Website (October 2013)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (November 2013)

Jeanne Demessieux: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works






BWV 478, BWV 508, BWV 516 [w/ soprano Suzanne Danco]

Links to other Sites

Jeanne Demessieux (Wikipedia)
Association "Les Amis de Jeanne Demessieux," Annoire, France [French/English]
Musica et Memoria: Jeanne Demessieux

Festivo: Jeanne Demessieux
Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) (Beulah)

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