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 Maurice Duruflé. 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.