Music Notes for the Fourth Sunday of Lent — March 10, 2024

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 the Cortège et Litanie — the latter 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, this morning’s organ postlude, 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