The Voice of Jean Langlais
The cathedrals of France in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced a marvelous line of organist/composers devoted to the art of improvisation and composition. Their immersion in Gregorian chant shines through their work. The great nineteenth-century organs of Aristide Cavaillé- Coll provided additional inspiration with their numerous symphonic and mystical colors. Jean Langlais falls squarely into this line of organist/composers. Langlais (1907-1991) distinguished himself by the breadth of his work and his uncompromising stand on sacred music, as well as his love for the Gregorian chant. His work as a concert organist took him many times to the United States, where audiences welcomed him into their hearts.
In return, Langlais devoted himself to numerous American students in Paris. Many Americans made the pilgrimage to the Saint Clotilde Basilica not only to learn Langlais’ great art of improvisation but also to hear him perform the works of his predecessors César Franck and Charles Tournemire. The amazing details of Langlais’ life—his early blindness, his surviving two world wars, and his confronting the struggles of his adult life—give us some insight into his complex, yet faithful personality.