Marie-Claire Alain

léonie sonning music prize 1980

The French organist Marie-Claire Alain received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 100,000 Danish kroner at a concert at Trinity Church in Copenhagen.

As a pre-cursor to the prize concert, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation made a television portrait of Alain. Excerpts of the prize concert were broadcast on television the following week.


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of 100,000 Danish kroner is hereby awarded to Marie-Claire Alain in recognition of her excellent and imaginative performance of the organ literature and her contribution to its understanding in both contemporary and classical works and particularly through recordings, which have among other things contributed to the spread of Danish organ culture.’


The programme

Buxtehude Toccata in D minor

Buxtehude Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott

Buxtehude Durch Adams Fall

JS Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565

JS Bach Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele

JS Bach Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend

JS Bach  Organ Concerto in A minor BWV 593

Jehan Alain Choral dorien

Jehan Alain Trois Danses


Marie-Claire Alain and Denmark

Marie-Claire Alain was already a part of Danish musical life before she was chosen in 1980 to receive the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. Concerts in most parts of the world had already made her world-famous, but a whole series of gramophone recordings on the Marcussen organ in Holmens Kirke in Copenhagen also made her famous in Denmark – and also made the organ famous outside Denmark, an organ that in everyday life ‘belonged’ to the great Danish organist Grethe Krogh, who also became a close friend of the French organist.

Alain was 32 when she visited Denmark for the first time in 1958 to take part in an organ week in Åbenrå. Here – also for the first time in her life – she got to know the neo-baroque sound of the Danish organs, something that was completely unknown in the Romantic tradition of French organs. Marie-Claire Alain was enthusiastic about Denmark and the Danish organs – and returned to give concerts and to record a whole series of gramophone records for many years after that.

The prize-giving concert in Holy Trinity Church was a triumph for the French maestro of the organ, so the concerts and celebrations of the following days were no less so. Marie-Claire Alain was awarded the Order of the Dannebrog, and in the evening of 2 June she was soloist in Radiohusets Koncertsal with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Tamás Vetö in a concert part of which was released on a record three years later: Händel’s Organ Concerto no. 7b, Caprice no. 1 by the French composer de Lalande, Jacques Charpentier’s organ concerto from 1972 and the first performance of Ib Nørholm’s Idylles d’Apocalypse, which the Music Foundation had commissioned from the composer.

Two days later, Marie-Claire Alain repeated the prize-giving concert in Odense Cathedral and two days after that (6 June) the same programme in Århus Cathedral. And three days after returning to Copenhagen, she held a master class for organ students from all of Denmark in Holy Trinity Church.

The daily press wrote, among other things:

It is almost superfluous to mention the technical mastery and musical superiority that characterised her playing overall. If one were to highlight anything in particular, it would have to be the two organ chorales by Bach, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele and Herr Jesus Christ, dich zu uns wend, in which the contrapuntal weave below and above the melody, and the nuances of the melody itself, felt completely transparent.

(Niels Rosing-Schouw, Jyllans-Posten, 4 June 1980)

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