Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986) was a consummate musician. Born in Louviers, the youngster came to the attention of composer Maurice Emmanuel, who knew his father, and soon the young Maurice was on his way to Paris. There Duruflé was to receive instruction from Charles Tournemire, then from Louis Vierne (whose teachings and technique he was to absorb in the 1920s), and later from Jean Gallon at the Paris Conservatoire, where he also studied composition with Paul Dukas and rubbed shoulders with fellow classmates Olivier Messiaen, Jehan Alain, Tony Aubin and Georges Hugon. A former pupil at Rouen’s Saint-Évode choir school, Duruflé had formed a deep affinity for Gregorian chant and, within a few years, he was joining the ranks of the finest musicians of his generation, alongside the soon-to-be-famous André Fleury, Gaston Litaize, Jean Langlais, Olivier Messiaen, Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, and Jean-Yves Daniel- Lesur. In the 1930s, this young coterie of composers, organ virtuosos and improvisers embodied the rebirth of the French school of organ playing, which now had a ‘neo-classical’ instrument at its disposal, more supple and multi-hued than earlier incarnations, and better able to translate the new ideas into sound. Named winner of the prestigious prize of the Amis de L’Orgue and appointed organist at Paris’s Église Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in 1930, Duruflé had already composed a few works notable for their inspired and refined ideas put across in a language of considerable individuality, such as the Scherzo and the Triptyque sur le Veni Creator, both dating from Louviers.
Fond of poise and polish, Maurice Duruflé retained a certain reserve all his life. Composing slowly and infrequently, he deftly managed to combine contrapuntal writing with orchestral textures, and the use of plainchant with touches of Impressionism inherited from his older contemporaries: Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, Florent Schmitt, Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré. Never completely satisfied with his progress and driven by the highest artistic standards, which made him the fiercest of self- critics, Duruflé embraced the iconic compositional forms (prelude, fugue, toccata, scherzo, chorale and variations), delivering a series of works, each in a state of utmost ‘perfection’ – a goal which easily earns him a place among the twentieth-century ‘classicists.’