Music for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — March 27, 2022

Cortège et Litanie – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)


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Marcel Dupré was born into a musical family and at an early age he demonstrated an extraordinary musical talent. He was the titular organist at Saint-Sulpice in Paris for nearly 40 years, an active recitalist, and a prolific composer. His organ works include the Chemin de la Croix (Stations of the Cross), and this Sunday’s postlude in church, the Cortège et Litanie –– a composition especially appropriate for Lent as we reflect on Christ’s redeeming work to take away death’s sting.


Originally written for a small orchestra in 1922, the Cortège et Litanie was subsequently published by the composer for piano, and at the request of his publisher Marcel Dupré created two further arrangements: one for grand orgue, and one for organ & orchestra in 1923 and 1925 respectively.


The Cortège (a procession) opens with a chorale-like theme, and it seems as if at the end of each phrase one can hear the tolling of a distant funeral bell to call attention that prayers are to be said.


The theme of the Litanie is a repeating quasi-plainchant motif which, however, is ever-changing in its supplication. The intensity of the prayer builds as the texture gradually thickens and the motif appears in canon. The piece reaches its apotheosis when in a majestic denouement the Cortège and Litanie themes are combined. It concludes with a glorious and triumphant coda, suggestive of an exultant pealing of bells — foreshadowing the joy of the resurrection.


PJ Janson