Obituary: Marie-Claire Alain

Renowned organist and distinguished teacher with 260 recordings to her credit


Widely regarded as one of the finest organists of the second half of the 20th century, Marie-Claire Alain, who has died at the age of 86, was a pioneering spirit in the application of historically informed principles to her instrument. She also had more than 260 recordings to her credit, including three complete cycles of the works of JS Bach.

Those recordings and others of early repertoire were characterised by her scrupulous choice of instrument for each individual piece and by meticulous preparation in terms of registration, fingering and articulation. But she was also noted for her interpretations of Liszt, Franck and Mendelssohn, and of the works of her brother Jehan (1911-1940), who died in action in the second World War.

She produced an edition of his music from sketches and manuscript sources, and recorded a pair of CDs. The family into which she was born in the western Parisian suburb of St Germain-en-Laye was a distinguished musical dynasty.

Her father, Albert Alain, was a composer, as were her two brothers, Olivier (1918-94) and the better-known Jehan. It was from hearing the latter play that she felt she really learned music.

At the Paris Conservatoire she then studied with Maurice Duruflé for harmony, Marcel Dupré for organ, Simone Plé-Caussade for counterpoint and fugue, and Marcel Beaufils for aesthetics.

She went on to win a prize at the Geneva international competition (1950) and following further studies with André Marchal and Gaston Litaize embarked on a career as a concert organist.

She was also a distinguished teacher, her pupils including Margaret Phillips, Daniel Roth and Thomas Trotter.

In 1950 she married Jacques Gommier, and they had a son, Benoit, and daughter, Aurelie. Jacques died in 1992, and Benoit in 2010.