History of composition
The organ concerto was commissioned by
Princess Edmond de Polignac
 in 1934, as a piece with a chamber orchestra accompaniment and an easy organ part that the princess could probably play herself. The commission was originally given to
Jean Françaix, who declined, but Poulenc accepted. Poulenc quickly abandoned this idea for something much more grandiose and ambitious; his earlier
harpsichord concerto and
double-piano concerto were simpler, more light-hearted pieces. As he wrote in a letter to Françaix, "The concerto...is not the amusing Poulenc of the Concerto for two pianos, but more like a Poulenc en route for the cloister."
 The death of a colleague and friend, the young critic and composer
Pierre-Octave Ferroud, in the spring of 1936 made Poulenc go on a pilgrimage to the
Black Virgin of Rocamadour, where he rediscovered his Christian faith. This new religious conviction not only nurtured an interest in religious music, which he began to compose, but also highly influenced his incomplete Organ Concerto.
 Indeed, Poulenc referred to it as being on the fringe of his religious works.
 Poulenc himself had never actually composed for the organ before, and so he studied great baroque masterpieces for the instrument by
Johann Sebastian Bach and
Dieterich Buxtehude; the work's neo-baroque feel reflects this. Poulenc was also advised about the instrument's registration and other aspects by the organist
 Duruflé was also the soloist in the private premiere of the work on 16 December 1938, with
Nadia Boulanger conducting, at Princess Edmond's salon. The first public performance was in June 1939 at the
Salle Gaveau in
Paris, with Duruflé once again the soloist and
Roger Désormière conducting.