Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Jean Langlais was born in La Fontenelle (Ille-et-Vilaine, Britanny), a small village near Mont St Michel. Langlais turned blind while only two years old, and was sent to study at the National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris, where he began to study the organ. From there, he progressed to the Paris Conservatoire, obtaining prizes in both organ, which he studied with Marcel Dupré, composition which he studied with Paul Dukas, and improvisation, which he studied with André Marchal .
After graduating, he returned the National Institute for the Young Blind to teach, and also taught at the Schola Cantorum from 1961 until 1976. However, it is as an organist that he made his name, following in the steps of Cesar Franck as principal organist at the Basilica of Sainte Clotilde in Paris in 1945, a post in which he remained until 1987. He was much in demand as a concert organist, and toured widely across Europe and the United States.
Langlais was a prolific composer, composing 254 works with opus numbers, the first of which was his Prelude and Fugue for organ of 1927, the last Trio, another organ piece in 1990. Although best known as a composer of organ music and sacred choral music, he also composed a number of instrumental and chamber works, and some secular song settings.
Langlais’ music is written in a late, free tonal style, representative of mid-20th Century French music, with rich and complex harmonies and overlapping modes, more tonal than his contemporary and countryman Olivier Messiaen. His best known works include his four part masses, Messe Solenelle, Missa Orbis Factor and Missa Salve Regina, his Mouevement Perpetuel for piano, and the variations on the Veni Creator Spiritus for organ.
Outside music, Langlais was a colourful and charismatic character, for many years living with both his first wife and his mistress and later to become second wife, and fathering a child at the age of 73.
Langlais died in Paris aged 84, and was survived by his second wife Marie-Louise Jacquet-Langlais.
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