Rolande Falcinelli was born in Paris, on 18 February 1920.
She was the first musician in a family of painters, and began playing piano and violin. She studied at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique (solfeggio, harmony, counterpoint, fugue, piano accompaniment , composition).
She aimed at a career of piano accompanist, and began working with singers, amongst them a wagnerian one (at seventy, she was still able to play every Wagner opera !). But, during the Second World War, some of her projects in piano playing were stopped, and her teacher of composition, Henri Büsser, advised her to try organ playing. She began organ at the end of 1940 with her fellow-student Gaston Litaize, then met Marcel Dupré… and realized a lightning-speed run, winning in 1942 a First Prize of organ and improvisation in Dupré’s class at the Paris Conservatoire after only one year of study! The same year, she obtained the Second Grand Prix de Rome, the Prix Halphen, and the Rossini Prize of composition granted by the French Académie des Beaux-Arts: she was a young composer already supported by such musicians as Arthur Honegger, Florent Schmitt, Philippe Gaubert, Olivier Messiaen…
Then, she became a virtuoso player and composer, as testified by her first organ pieces and her recitals, amongst them the famous cycle at Paris Salle Pleyel and at the French Radio in 1948 where she played the complete (at that day) Marcel Dupré’s organ work, or the première at Sainte-Clotilde of Jean Langlais’ First Symphony.
In 1950, she made a memorable two-month tour in U.S.A. and Canada, playing (and recording) virtuoso pieces such as Dupré’s Esquisses or her own Poèmes-Études, the most difficult work ever composed for organ. Later, she premiered Dupré’s Quartet for Organ and strings, Vitrail, Paraphrase sur le Te Deum, Langlais’ Diptyque for piano and organ (as a pianist)… Her concert career made her to travel in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Sweden.
German, Belgian, Swedish, French Radios recorded some concerts of hers.
Since 1945, she was organist at the Paris Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (a position she held for over twenty years), the first woman to be appointed in an important church in France.
In 1948, she became organ teacher at the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau, and substitute of Marcel Dupré at the Paris Conservatoire when he was touring abroad. In 1951, she was appointed organ teacher at the Paris École Normale de Musique, and in 1955 professor of organ and improvisation at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique when Marcel Dupré was appointed Director of it. During the thirty-two years she conducted the organ class in Paris Conservatoire, sixty-six young organists received their First Prizes.
Numerous works were dedicated to her, among them Dupré’s Quartet for organ and strings, Guillou’s Dix-huit Variations for organ, Langlais’ Incantation pour un Jour Saint, Wissmer’s Variations sur un Noël imaginaire, Tisné’s Psaume pour notre temps…
Maurice Duruflé spoke about her as an “exceptional personality in the French music”; Jean Langlais quoted her “as an example” for her “high sense of Spirituality”; Olivier Messiaen wrote to her: “Your technique is dazzling and you play as well as Marcel Dupré! (Which is the biggest congratulation one can tell you!)”.
As a composer (of 74 opus numbers), Rolande Falcinelli wanted to follow Marcel Dupré’s motto: “to link organ to mainstream music”. Then, in addition to numerous contributions to organ, cembalo, piano, vocal, orchestral repertoire, she wrote important pieces for organ and piano, organ and violin, organ and viola, organ and two violas, organ and violoncello, organ and flute, organ and voice, organ and orchestra.
Her style is characterized by a restless harmonic writing and a free modality enlarged by her interest in extra-european musics. She especially studied Persian traditional music and wrote during the 70s three masterpieces according to Iranian modes, rythms and subjects (Mathnavi, Miniatures Persanes, Azân).
She died in Pau on 11 June 2006.