The French organist, Marie-Claire Alain was part of a great musical family. Her father, Albert Alain, was an organ composer and builder, and both her brothers – Jehan and Olivier – were composers.
She herself was the most recorded organist in the world: she gave over 2,000 recitals around the world and made over 260 recordings, most of which were on the Erato label. In the US she earned herself the nickname ‘the First Lady of the Organ’.
Alain trained at the Paris Conservatory with Marcel Dupré and studied harmony with Maurice Duruflé. She gave her first public recital in 1950 and was awarded the Bach Prize by Les Amis de Orgue in 1951.
She went on to record the complete organ works of JS Bach three times, a feat she explained in an interview with The Organ magazine:
‘It’s because of the instruments, the instruments above everything else, and the fine state to which they have been restored – and the fact that they are now accessible. These recordings use instruments from Bach’s time, and we know that Bach even played some of them – it’s an extraordinary feeling, to put your hands on the keyboard, knowing that he was there 250 years before you!’
The organs on which she recorded Bach’s works include the organs of the Grote Sint Laurenskerk in Alkmaar, Freiberg Cathedral and Sint Bavokerk in Haarlem. But her discography was not confined to the works of JS Bach: it encompassed the music of Couperin, Widor, Liszt, Messiaen and her brother, Jehan Alain.
Also renowned as a teacher, Alain lectured at the Haarlem Summer Academy of Organists and regularly gave masterclasses around the world. Choral conductor Edward Higginbottom was among her pupils, as were the organists Daniel Roth and Thomas Trotter.
Alain received honorary doctorates from Colorado State University and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.