Life and career
Duruflé was born in Louviers, Eure in 1902. He became a chorister at the Rouen Cathedral Choir School from 1912 to 1918, where he studied piano and organ with Jules Haelling, a pupil of Alexandre Guilmant. The choral plainsong tradition at Rouen became a strong and lasting influence. At age 17, upon moving to Paris, he took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire, whom he assisted at Basilique Ste-Clotilde, Paris until 1927. In 1920 Duruflé entered the Conservatoire de Paris, eventually graduating with first prizes in organ with Eugène Gigout (1922), harmony with Jean Gallon (1924), fugue with Georges Caussade (1924), piano accompaniment with César Abel Estyle (1926) and composition with Paul Dukas (1928).
In 1927, Louis Vierne nominated him as his assistant at Notre-Dame. Duruflé and Vierne remained lifelong friends, and Duruflé was at Vierne's side acting as assistant when Vierne died at the console of the Notre-Dame organ on 2 June 1937, even though Duruflé had become titular organist of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris in 1929, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1930 he won a prize for his Prélude, adagio et choral varié sur le "Veni Creator", and in 1936 he won the Prix Blumenthal. In 1939, he premiered Francis Poulenc's Organ Concerto (the Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor); he had advised Poulenc on the registrations of the organ part. In 1943 he became Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he worked until 1970; among his pupils were Pierre Cochereau, Jean Guillou and Marie-Claire Alain.
In 1947 he completed probably the most famous of his few pieces: the Requiem op. 9, for soloists, choir, organ, and orchestra. He had begun composing the work in 1941, following a commission from the Vichy regime. Also in 1947, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier became his assistant at St-Étienne-du-Mont. They married on 15 September 1953. (Duruflé's first marriage to Lucette Bousquet, in 1932, ended in civil divorce in 1947 and was declared null by the Vatican on 23 June 1953.) The couple became a famous and popular organ duo, going on tour together several times throughout the sixties and early seventies.
He was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur in 1954. He was promoted to an Officier de la Legion d'honneur in 1966.