From the Mailbag: Alain in Africa?

Bb0e1c drawing by composer jehan alain 20160405
Drawing by composer Jehan Alain. Image taken during the 2014 Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland. Joseph Trucano / APM

Sam from Ohio writes:

Dear Michael,

This is a question about the Second Fantasy by Jehan Alain. I only know a very general background, which is that the piece was inspired by Alain's travels to Morocco in northern Africa. Can you give me any more details about his experiences which influenced this composition? Also, can you give me any background on Alain's Premiere Fantasy?

Thank You.

---

Sam,

Kimberly Marshall has some thoughts about the Second Fantasy:

http://www.gothic-catalog.com/A_Fantasy_Through_Time_Marshall_p/lrcd-1108.htm

Marie-Claire Alain (the composer's younger sister, and primary champion) says:

The Second Fantasy is based on two themes, the first reminiscent of the Gregorian Chant "Exsaltabun Domino" from the Office for the Dead, and the second a Hebrew folk melody (on which Alain wrote a paraphrase). This seems to fly in the face of previous commentators who mention his trip to Morocco.

Of the First Fantasy, she days that the work was inspired by the poetry of Omar Khayyam: Then to the rolling heav'n itself I cried, asking: "What lamp had destiny to guide her little children stumbling in the dark?" And "A blind understanding!" heav'n replied.

The two parts of the piece embody the anguished cry and the calm response. Always one for a joke, Alain put words to one of the themes: "A great big engine with a tiny little tender".

Hope that helps.

In the end, the meaning of music is as much what we bring to our listening of it as anything else.

JMB