Jean Langlais (15 February 1907 – 8 May 1991) was a French composer of modern classical music, organist, and improviser.
Jean Langlais was born in La Fontenelle (Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany), a small village near Mont St Michel, France. Langlais became blind due to glaucoma when he was only two years old, and was sent to study at the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, where he began to study the organ. From there, he progressed to the Paris Conservatoire, obtaining prizes in organ, which he studied with Marcel Dupré, composition, which he studied with Paul Dukas, and improvisation, which he studied with André Marchal.
After graduating, he returned to the National Institute for the Young Blind to teach, and also taught at the Schola Cantorum from 1961 to 1976. However, it was as an organist that he made his name, following in the steps of César Franck and Charles Tournemire as Organist Titulaire at the Basilica of St. Clotilde, Paris in 1945, a post in which he remained until 1988. He was much in demand as a concert organist, and toured widely across Europe and the United States.
Outside music, Langlais was a colorful and charismatic character, whose handicap did not prevent numerous amatory exploits. He died in Paris aged 84, and was survived by his second wife Marie-Louise Jaquet-Langlais.
To celebrate the contributions of this prominent twentieth-century artist on the centenary of his birth, an English-language DVD, Life and Music of Jean Langlais, was released in 2007 by the Los Angeles chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
Langlais was a prolific composer, composing 254 works with opus numbers, the first of which was his Prelude and Fugue for organ (1927), and the last his Trio (1990), another organ piece. Although best known as a composer of organ music and sacred choral music, he also composed a number of instrumental, orchestral and chamber works and some secular song settings.
Langlais's music is written in a late, free tonal style, representative of mid-twentieth-century French music, with rich and complex harmonies and overlapping modes, more tonal than his contemporary, friend and countryman Olivier Messiaen. There is sometimes a certain resemblance between Langlais's acerbic idiom (in which chords based on the interval of a fourth are often prominent) and that of Paul Hindemith. His best-known works include his four-part masses, Messe solennelle, Missa orbis factor and Missa salve Regina, and his Mouvement perpétuel for piano.
His other acclaimed compositions include:
Hymne d’actions de grâces from Three Gregorian Paraphrases
- La nativité
Chant héroïque, Chant de paix, and De profundis from Nine Pieces
Kyrie "Orbis factor" from Livre œcuménique
Les rameaux (The Palms)
Incantation pour un jour saint (Incantation for Easter)
- Suite brève
- Suite médiévale
- Trois méditations sur la Sainte Trinité
Jean Langlais: The Man and His Music, by Ann Labounsky, Amadeus Press, 2000. ISBN 1-57467-054-9
Ombre et Lumière : Jean Langlais 1907-1991, by Marie-Louise Jaquet-Langlais, Paris: Éditions Combre, 1995. ISBN 2-9506073-2-2