Marie-Claire Alain, noted organist, teacher

NEW YORK — Marie-Claire Alain, a master French organist and teacher with admirers and distinguished former students around the world, died Tuesday in a retirement home in Le Pecq, outside Paris. She was 86.

Ms. Alain’s interpretations of Bach, Francois Couperin, and Dieterich Buxtehude, precise yet engaging and colorful, were widely considered authoritative. Her 300 recordings include three on organs of different periods of the complete organ works of J.S. Bach.

She also recorded albums of Romantic composers, including Mendelssohn, Lizst, Cesar Franck and Louis Vierne, and she was devoted to the organ works of her oldest brother, Jehan,a composer who was killed in action in the German invasion of France in 1940. Among her most popular albums were several she made with Maurice Andre of works for trumpet and organ.


She taught at the conservatory of Rueil-Malmaison and later at the Paris Conservatory, where she had studied after World War II with Marcel Dupre and Maurice Durufle, and later Gaston Litaize.

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Daniel Roth, organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, who went to her as a young man to learn early-music performance, said in a telephone interview that unlike his other professors, most of them fearsome and intimidating, ‘‘she was a woman who always had a smile.’’ He added, ‘‘And she always regarded the composer, of whatever period, as the ultimate authority.’’

Among her hundreds of other students were Guy Bovet, Wolfgang Ruebsam, James David Christie, James Higdon, George C. Baker and Dame Gillian Weir.

The list is a ‘‘who’s who of the present-day organ world,’’ as Michael Barone, host of American Public Media’s ‘‘Pipedreams’’ radio program, put it in a tribute.