Jeanne Demessieux

Jeanne Marie-Madeleine Demessieux (13 February 192111 November 1968), was a French organist, pianist, composer, and pedagogue.


Born in Montpellier, in southern France, Jeanne Demessieux was the second child of Marie-Madeleine Demessieux (née Mézy) and Étienne Demessieux. After taking private piano lessons with her elder sister, Yolande, Jeanne entered the Montpellier Conservatoire in 1928. Four years later, she obtained first prizes in solfège and piano.

In 1933, she began her studies at the Paris Conservatoire; studying piano with Simon Riera and Magda Tagliaferro, harmony with Jean Gallon, counterpoint and fugue with Noël Gallon, and composition with one of Franck's youngest pupils, Henri Büsser. The same year, she was appointed titular organist at Saint-Esprit (12th arrondissement), a post she held for 29 years.

Between 1936 and 1939, she studied organ privately with Marcel Dupré, whose organ class at the Conservatoire she joined in 1939. After receiving a first prize in organ performance and improvisation in 1941, Demessieux studied five more years privately with Dupré in Meudon, before she played her début recital at Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1946. This was the beginning of her career as an international recitalist.

Altogether she gave more than 700 concerts not just in France, but also in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, West Germany, and the United States. Blessed (like Dupré) with a prodigious memory, she knew more than 2,500 works by heart, including the complete organ works of Bach, Franck, Liszt, and Mendelssohn, as well as most of Dupré's compositions for the instrument. A prolific recording artist, she received in 1960 France's Grand Prix du Disque Award for her Franck intégrale, committed to disc two years before.

In 1962, Demessieux was appointed titular organist at La Madeleine in Paris. She combined this with demanding academic duties (not solely in her homeland), serving as professor of organ both at the Nancy Conservatoire (1950–52) and later at the Conservatoire Royal in Liège (1952–68). Increasingly poor health obliged her to limit her performance activities after 1965. Nevertheless, in 1967 she signed a contract with the Decca label for a complete recording of every organ piece Messiaen had thus far written. Alas, the project was never realized.

'I can hear the flutes of the Madeleine' she said, while lying in bed during her last moments. She died in Paris on 11 November 1968 from the effects of throat cancer. A large crowd, including Marcel Dupré, attended her funeral. The great organ of the Madeleine stood in silent mourning and a vast black drape hung from the gallery to the floor.

She left behind more than 30 compositions. Many of these were written for the organ, but she also produced pieces for piano, fairly numerous songs, a handful of choral works (including an oratorio, "Chanson de Roland"), and orchestral works. Only about one-third of her output has been published to date. On disc, as a performer, she is rather better represented: the Dutch label Festivo has re-released on CD several of her LP recordings, including the above-mentioned 1958 version of Franck's complete organ works, already in stereo.


Organ Solo

Organ and Orchestra

Piano Solo

Songs (with Piano)

Chamber Music

Vocal Music




External links

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