Marcel Dupré (1886 - 1971) is part of a great line of French church organist-composers who typically held positions at one of the major Parisian churches, taught, and created a unique body of organ music.
Dupré came to public attention when he replaced Louis Vierne as the organist at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris during Vierne's long illness between 1916 and 1922. During that time, Dupré made a great reputation as an interpreter by performing a series of recitals in 1920 during which he played all of Johann Sebastian Bach's organ music from memory.
This made him a recitalist of international reputation, with frequent appearances in the United States. He was appointed to succeed Eugène Gigout as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatory in 1926, and in 1934 became the organist of St. Sulpice in Paris, as successor to Charles-Marie Widor.
Not unexpectedly, the style of this concerto is essentially conservative and academic, though not untouched by the bold changes in musical style of the prior two decades. These changes are most noticeable in the mild use of bitonality (i.e., different voices of the music being in different keys). Dupré sometimes piles the chords from different keys on top of one another to make a complex chord with some tone clusters, but does so in a way calculated to add spice to the sound, rather than to create harsh effects.
The concerto is 21 minutes long, and is in three movements of roughly equal length.
The first movement, Allegro con moto, opens in grandiose mode, heavy organ chords extended by the woodwind and brass of the orchestra. The main theme has a memorable main motive that opens the music. Soon the organ plays a rapid passage with chromatic sequences as the brass and woodwind repeat the main theme. The second subject, in the dominant major key of B, is a more lyrical theme, which soon passes to the cellos after an unusual upward slip of a half step in C major. This theme and the half step slip figure prominently in an imaginative development section. The return to E minor leads to a curtailed restatement that also serves as a coda to the movement.
The second movement is in an unusual two-part form, Largo; Allegretto. The organ enters using the Voix Celeste effect over a pedal tone. After the orchestra joins it, the solo French horn becomes the most prominent solo voice of the orchestra, and plays in duet with the melody line of the organ part. In the Allegretto section flute and clarinet begin a new melody. Ultimately, elements of the main melodies of both movement blend together.
The final movement, Vivace, is the powerful concluding display piece of the concerto, with rapid figurations and chromatic chords. The two main melodic elements are the theme first introduced on low strings and a trumpet motive. The Allegretto theme from the second movement is recalled, and just before the ending the organ has a brilliant cadenza bringing back melodies from the first movement.