Symphonie-Passion, Op. 23
About this Piece
On tour in the U.S. during the Christmas season of 1921, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) took four melodies to improvise upon suggested by audience members gathered at the famous Grand Court Organ inside the John Wanamaker Department Store in Philadelphia. Two were Christmas melodies (“Jesu redemptor omnium” and the famous hymn “Adeste fideles,” known in English as “O Come All Ye Faithful”). Two more melodies were from Easter chants (“Stabat mater dolorosa” and “Adoro te devote”).
Three years later, Dupré wrote out and published these improvisations as his Symphonie-Passion, Op. 23. The four corresponding movements, which musically narrate the life of Christ, are titled 1) “Le Monde Dans L’Attente Du Saveur” (The World Awaiting the Savior); 2) “Nativité;” 3) “Crucifixion;” and 4) “Résurrection.”
Dupré’s improvisational style brings with it ostinatos of hypnotic affect. This takes the form of repetitive chords in the first movement, that alternate between patterns of five and seven. In an otherwise simple study of melodic contours, the slow second movement dismembers and conceals its familiar melody until solemnly stated at the end. The pedal part of the third movement is heavy, with the sad “Stabat mater dolorosa” emerging at the end. The final movement blossoms into joyfully cacophonous resurrection with a traditional French organ toccata of the era (rapid filigree motion in the hands over a booming slow melody in the pedals).
Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin and a JD from McGeorge School of Law.