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Théodore Dubois (1837-1924)


Professor, composer, organist, and author of many musical textbooks, Théodore Dubois was perhaps the supreme representative of the academic traditions of 19th century French music, which were swept away by the revolutionary innovations of Debussy and Ravel. During the 1870s Dubois enjoyed a good deal of success with his stage and orchestral works, and he was also a respected church musician, working alongside César Franck for ten years as Choirmaster at Sainte-Clotilde, and later succeeding Saint-Saëns as Organist of La Madeleine. After many years of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire, Dubois was appointed Director in 1896, but he was forced to resign in 1905 after the notorious “Ravel Affair”. Maurice Ravel had already made a name for himself as a talented composer, but the Conservatoire refused to allow him to compete for their valuable composition prize, the Prix de Rome, because his music was too modern. The public outcry that followed led to the collapse of the old order, and Dubois had to resign; he was succeeded by Gabriel Fauré, and the “new music” won the day. Since then nearly all Dubois’ own compositions have fallen into oblivion, with the exception of one or two organ pieces, most notably the Toccata in G (1886). This is undoubtedly one of the most effective pieces of its kind from the 19th century, contrasting the brilliant semiquaver figuration of the opening toccata with a more lyrical and sentimental central section, and working up to a majestic climax.

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