Léonie Sonning Awards 1980

Marie-Claire Alain

The organist Marie-Claire Alain received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 at a concert held at 8pm on Friday, 30 May 1980 in Holy Trinity Church, Copenhagen 

The prize was presented by the leader of the Royal Danish Orchestra, John Frandsen

The programme

Diderik Buxtehude Toccata in D minor
  2 chorales: Komm, heiliger Geist and Durch Adams Fall
J.S. Bach Toccata and fugue in D minor, BWV 565
  2 chorales: Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele and Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend
  Concerto in a-minor, (transcription of Vivaldi) BWV 593
Jehan Alain (brother) Choral Dorien
Trois Danses Joie, Deuils, Luttes


The Léonie Sonning Music Prize of DKK 100,000 is hereby awarded to Marie-Claire Alain in admiration of her excellent and imaginative performance of – and contribution to – the understanding of earlier and recent works of organ literature as well as in recognition of her numerous recordings, whereby she has also contributed to the spreading of Danish organ culture.

Concerts in connection with the award

June 2, 1980 at 8pm in Radiohusets Koncertsal

Händel Organ Concerto no. 7b
de Lalande Caprice no. 1
Jacques Charpentier Concerto pour orgue (1972)
Ib Nørholm

Idylles d’Apocalypse pour l’orgue grande (1979). Commissioned work.

Marie-Claire Alain
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Tamás Vetö

June 4, 1980 at 8pm in Odense Cathedral.

Buxtehude, Bach, Alain.

June 6, 1980 at 8pm in Århus Cathedral.

Buxtehude, Bach, Alain.

Marie-Claire Alain and Denmark

Marie-Claire Alain was already a part of Danish musical life before she was chosen in 1980 to receive the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. Concerts in most parts of the world had already made her world-famous, but a whole series of gramophone recordings on the Marcussen organ in Holmens Kirke in Copenhagen also made her famous in Denmark – and also made the organ famous outside Denmark, an organ that in everyday life ‘belonged’ to the great Danish organist Grethe Krogh, who also became a close friend of the French organist.

Alain was 32 when she visited Denmark for the first time in 1958 to take part in an organ week in Åbenrå. Here – also for the first time in her life – she got to know the neo-baroque sound of the Danish organs, something that was completely unknown in the Romantic tradition of French organs. Marie-Claire Alain was enthusiastic about Denmark and the Danish organs – and returned to give concerts and to record a whole series of gramophone records for many years after that.

The prize-giving concert in Holy Trinity Church was a triumph for the French maestro of the organ, so the concerts and celebrations of the following days were no less so. Marie-Claire Alain was awarded the Order of the Dannebrog, and in the evening of 2 June she was soloist in Radiohusets Koncertsal with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Tamás Vetö in a concert part of which was released on a record three years later: Händel’s Organ Concerto no. 7b, Caprice no. 1 by the French composer de Lalande, Jacques Charpentier’s organ concerto from 1972 and the first performance of Ib Nørholm’s Idylles d’Apocalypse, which the Music Foundation had commissioned from the composer.

Two days later, Marie-Claire Alain repeated the prize-giving concert in Odense Cathedral and two days after that (6 June) the same programme in Århus Cathedral. And three days after returning to Copenhagen, she held a master class for organ students from all of Denmark in Holy Trinity Church.

Selected Music by Marie-Claire Alain

The daily press

wrote, among other things:

"It is almost superfluous to mention the technical mastery and musical superiority that characterised every aspect of her playing. If one were to single out any pieces, it would have to be the two organ chorales of Bach ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ and ‘Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend’, where the contrapuntal gossamer weaving below and above the melody with fine nuances in the phrasing stood out in all their transparency [...]"

(Niels Rosing-Schouw, Jyllands-Posten, 4 June 1980)

"By Bach, who is another of her complete gramophone-recorded specialities, she played [...] one of the Vivaldi concerto transcriptions. Once again, impressively skilfully, once again surprisingly devoid of expression. Only Vivaldi could put up with being played in computer style: without declamatory phrasing, without audible involved in the individuality of the very divergent pieces, without any sense of detail [...]

[...] two works by her deceased brother, the composer Jehan Alain: Choral Dorien and Trois Danses, and here even the grumpy reviewer had to admit that she was really excellent."

(Thomas Viggo Pedersen, Kristeligt Dagblad, 7 June 1980)