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Jeanne Demessieux

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Jeanne Demessieux (born Montpellier, France, 13 February 1921; died Paris, 11 November 1968), was a French organist and composer.

She started to learn the piano when she was very young, before taking up the organ. Her family moved to Paris so that she could continue to have music lessons there. She became an organ student at the Conservatoire in 1933. In the same year she got a job as organist of the St. Esprit church in Paris. She had this job for 29 years.

Between 1936 and 1939, she studied organ privately with the great Marcel Dupré, and in 1939 she joined his organ class at the Conservatoire. After receiving a first prize in organ performance and improvisation in 1941, she studied five more years with Dupré in Meudon, before she played her first recital at Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1946. This was the beginning of her career as an international recitalist. She played more than 700 concerts in Europe and the United States.

Gifted with an amazing musical memory, she could play more than 2,500 pieces from memory, including all the organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach, César Franck, Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Dupré.

She was also a remarkable improviser. When she gave her first concert in London she was given four tunes by four different people and was asked to improvise a long piece of music on the organ using all those tunes. She succeeded.

A teacher of the organ at Nancy and Brussels, she made several LP recordings, of which those of music by Franck are probably the best known. She had plans to record all the organ works of Olivier Messiaen. However, she died young, in Paris, of an embolism, before she was able to finish this task.

She wrote many compositions, especially for the organ. These include: Nativité, Six Études, Sept Méditations sur le Saint-Esprit, Triptyque, Twelve Choral-Preludes on Gregorian Chant Themes, and Te Deum.