Widor, c. 1900
|Born||21 February 1844|
|Died||12 March 1937 (aged 93)|
Widor was born in Lyon, to a family of organ builders, and initially studied music there with his father, François-Charles Widor, titular organist of Saint-François-de-Sales from 1838 to 1889. The French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, reviver of the art of organ building, was a friend of the Widor family; he arranged for the talented young organist to study in Brussels in 1863 with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens for organ technique and with the elderly François-Joseph Fétis, director of the Brussels Conservatoire, for composition. After this term of study Widor moved to Paris, where he resided for the rest of his life. At the age of 24, he was appointed assistant to Camille Saint-Saëns at Église de la Madeleine.
In January 1870, with the combined lobbying of Cavaillé-Coll, Saint-Saëns, and Charles Gounod, the 25-year-old Widor was appointed as "provisional" organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, the most prominent position for a French organist. The organ at St-Sulpice was Cavaillé-Coll's masterwork; the instrument's spectacular capabilities proved an inspiration to Widor. Despite his job's ostensibly "provisional" nature, Widor remained as organist at St-Sulpice for nearly 64 years until the end of 1933. He was succeeded in 1934 by his former student and assistant, Marcel Dupré.
In 1890, upon the death of César Franck, Widor succeeded him as organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The class he inherited was initially stunned by this new teacher, who suddenly demanded a formidable technique and a knowledge of J.S. Bach's organ works as prerequisites to effective improvisation. Later (1896), he gave up this post to become composition professor at the same institution. Widor had several students in Paris who were to become famous composers and organists in their own right, most notably the aforementioned Dupré, Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Darius Milhaud, Alexander Schreiner, Edgard Varèse, and the Canadian Henri Gagnon. Albert Schweitzer also studied with Widor, mainly from 1899; master and pupil later collaborated on an annotated edition of J. S. Bach's organ works published in 1912–1914. Widor, whose own master Lemmens was an important Bach exponent, encouraged Schweitzer's theological exploration of Bach's music.
Among the leading organ recitalists of his time, Widor visited many different nations in this capacity, including Russia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. In addition he participated in the inaugural concerts of many of Cavaillé-Coll's greatest instruments, notably Notre-Dame de Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Trocadéro and Saint-Ouen de Rouen.
Well known as a man of great culture and learning, Widor was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1892, and reached the rank of a Grand-Officier de la Légion d'honneur in 1933. He was named to the Institut de France in 1910, and was elected "Secrétaire perpetuel" (permanent secretary) of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1914, succeeding Henry Roujon.
In 1921, Widor founded the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau with Francis-Louis Casadesus. He was the Director until 1934, when he was succeeded by Maurice Ravel. His close friend, Isidor Philipp gave piano lessons there, and Nadia Boulanger taught an entire generation of new composers.
At the age of 76, Widor married Mathilde de Montesquiou-Fézensac on 26 April 1920 at Charchigné. The 36-year-old Mathilde was a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families of Europe. She died in 1960: there were no children from this union.
On 31 December 1933, at age 89, Widor retired from his position at Saint-Sulpice. Three years later he suffered a stroke which paralysed the right side of his body, although he remained mentally alert to the last. He died at his home in Paris on 12 March 1937 at the age of 93, and his remains were interred in the crypt of Saint-Sulpice four days later.
Widor wrote music for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles (some of his songs for voice and piano are especially notable) and composed four operas and a ballet, but only his works for organ are played with any regularity today. These include: ten Organ Symphonies, three Symphonies for orchestra with organ, Suite Latine, Trois Nouvelles Pièces, and six arrangements of works by Bach under the title Bach's Memento (1925). The organ symphonies are his most significant contribution to the organ repertoire.
It is unusual for a work written for one instrument to be assigned the term "symphony." However, Widor was at the forefront of a revival in French organ music, which utilized a new organ design pioneered by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll that was "symphonic" in style. The organ of the Baroque and Classical periods was designed to project a clear and crisp sound capable of handling contrapuntal writing. Cavaillé-Coll's organs, on the other hand, had a much warmer sound and a vast array of stops that extended the timbre of the instrument. This new style of organ, with a truly orchestral range of voicing and unprecedented abilities for smooth crescendos and diminuendos, encouraged composers to write music that was fully symphonic in scope. This trend was not limited to France, and was reflected in Germany by the organs built by Eberhard Friedrich Walcker and the works of Franz Liszt, Julius Reubke, and Max Reger.
Widor's symphonies can be divided into three groups. The first four symphonies comprise Op. 13 (1872) and are more properly termed "suites". (Widor himself called them "collections".) They represent Widor's early style. Widor made later revisions to the earlier symphonies. Some of these revisions were quite extensive.
With the Opus 42 symphonies, Widor shows his mastery and refinement of contrapuntal technique, while exploring to the fullest the capabilities of the Cavaillé-Coll organs for which these works were written. The Fifth Symphony has five movements, the last of which is the famous Toccata. The Sixth Symphony is also famous for its opening movement. The Seventh and Eighth Symphonies are the longest and least performed of Widor's Symphonies. The Seventh Symphony contains six movements, and the first version of the Eighth Symphony had seven. (Widor subsequently removed the Prélude for the 1901 edition.)
The ninth and tenth symphonies, respectively termed "Gothique" (Op. 70, of 1895) and "Romane" (Op. 73, of 1900), are much more introspective. They both derive thematic material from plainchant: Symphonie Gothique uses the Christmas Day Introit "Puer natus est" in the third and fourth movements, while the Symphonie Romane has the Easter Gradual "Haec dies" woven throughout all four movements. They also honored, respectively, the Gothic Church of St. Ouen, Rouen and the Romanesque Basilica of St. Sernin, Toulouse, with the new Cavaillé-Coll organs installed in each. The second movement of the Symphonie Gothique, entitled "Andante sostenuto", is one of Widor's most-beloved pieces. Dating from this same period, and also based on a plainsong theme, is the "Salve Regina" movement, a late addition to the much earlier second symphony.
Widor's best-known single piece for the organ is the final movement, Toccata, from his Symphony for Organ No. 5, which is often played as a recessional at wedding ceremonies and at the close of the Christmas Midnight Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica (Vatican City). Although the Fourth Symphony also opens with a Toccata, it is in a dramatically different (and earlier) style. The Toccata from Symphony No. 5 is the first of the toccatas characteristic of French Romantic organ music, and served as a model for later works by Gigout, Boëllmann, Mulet, Vierne and Dupré. Widor was pleased with the worldwide renown this single piece afforded him, but he was unhappy with how fast many other organists played it. Widor himself always played the Toccata rather deliberately. Many organists play it at a very fast tempo whereas Widor preferred a more controlled articulation to be involved. He recorded the piece, at St. Sulpice in his eighty-ninth year; the tempo used for the Toccata is quite slow. Isidor Philipp transcribed the Toccata for two pianos.
Over his long career, Widor returned again and again to edit his earlier music, even after publication. His biographer John Near reports: "Ultimately, it was discovered that over a period of about sixty years, as many as eight different editions were issued for some of the symphonies."
Rough dates of composition/publication are in brackets, along with the original publisher, if known.
Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély
| Titular Organist, Saint Sulpice Paris
André Gabriel Edmée Pirro (12 February 1869 – 11 November 1943) was a French musicologist and an organist.
Born in Saint-Dizier, Pirro learned to play the organ from his father Jean Pirro. In Paris where he became and organist and a choirmaster for the Collège Stanislas de Paris. He studied with César Franck and taught music history at the Schola Cantorum. Pirro published his academic thesis on the Aesthetics of Bach in 1907, followed by Descartes and the Music'. His famous pupils include Yvonne Rokseth, Vladimir Fedorov, Dragan Plamenac, Armand Machabey, Geneviève Thibault de Chambure, Marc Pincherle, Jacques Chailley, Eugénie Droz. See: List of music students by teacher: N to Q#André Pirro. These days he is probably most often remembered through his musicological collaborations with Alexandre Guilmant concerning reprints of ancient organ music.Blair Fairchild
J. Blair Fairchild (June 23, 1877 – April 23, 1933) was an American composer and diplomat. Along with Charles Wakefield Cadman, Charles Sanford Skilton, Arthur Nevin, and Arthur Farwell, among others, he is sometimes grouped among the Indianists, although he had only a marginal association with their work.Casa de Velázquez
The Casa de Velázquez is a French school in Spain modelled on the Villa Médicis in Rome, and the fr:Villa Abd-el-Tif in Algeria. Like the Prix de Rome bursary for residence at the Villa Médicis and the defunct Prix Abd-el-Tif bursary for residence at the Villa Abd-el-Tif, bursaries are awarded.
The idea for a similar villa in Spain was raised in 1916 by the composer Charles-Marie Widor who at the time was secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts of the Institut de France. The idea met with support of Alfonso XIII who himself selected a site in Madrid which was ceded to France. The Foundation was legally founded in 1920, adapted by the architect Léon Chifflot, and opened for the first French artists in 1929. The villa was further enlarged by architect Camille Lefèvre (1876-1946) up to 1935.Charles Quef
Charles Paul Florimond Quef (1 November 1873, Lille – 2 July 1931, Paris) was a French organist and composer.
He studied at the conservatory in Lille, and later he attended the Paris Conservatory where he studied with Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne and Alexandre Guilmant. From 1895 to 1898, he was organist of the Église Sainte-Marie-des-Batignolles and in 1898, organist of the Saint-Laurent church, Paris. In the same year, he was awarded the First prize for organ at the conservatory. Then he was appointed assistant organist and later, in November 1901, titular organist of the Église de la Ste.-Trinité, Paris, due to resignation of his predecessor Guilmant. He retained this post until his death in 1931.Darius Milhaud
Darius Milhaud (French: [daʁjys mijo]; 4 September 1892 – 22 June 1974) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and Brazilian music and make extensive use of polytonality. Milhaud is considered one of the key modernist composers.Edgard Varèse
Edgard Victor Achille Charles Varèse (French: [ɛdɡaːʁ viktɔːʁ aʃil ʃaʁl vaʁɛːz]; also spelled Edgar Varèse; December 22, 1883 – November 6, 1965) was a French-born composer who spent the greater part of his career in the United States.
Varèse's music emphasizes timbre and rhythm. He coined the term "organized sound" in reference to his own musical aesthetic. Varèse's conception of music reflected his vision of "sound as living matter" and of "musical space as open rather than bounded". He conceived the elements of his music in terms of "sound-masses", likening their organization to the natural phenomenon of crystallization. Varèse thought that "to stubbornly conditioned ears, anything new in music has always been called noise", and he posed the question, "what is music but organized noises?"Although his complete surviving works only last about three hours, he has been recognised as an influence by several major composers of the late 20th century. Varèse saw potential in using electronic media for sound production, and his use of new instruments and electronic resources led to his being known as the "Father of Electronic Music" while Henry Miller described him as "The stratospheric Colossus of Sound".Varèse actively promoted performances of works by other 20th-century composers and founded the International Composers' Guild in 1921 and the Pan-American Association of Composers in 1926.Edwin Arthur Kraft
Edwin Arthur Kraft (January 8, 1883 - July 15, 1962) was an American organist and choir-director.Georges Dandelot
Georges Édouard Dandelot (2 December 1895 – 17 August 1975) was a French composer and teacher.Georges Migot
Georges Elbert Migot (27 February 1891 – 5 January 1976) was a prolific French composer. Though primarily known as a composer, he was also a poet, often integrating his poetry into his compositions, and an accomplished painter. He won the 1921 Prix Blumenthal.Ion Nonna Otescu
Ion Nonna Otescu (15 December 1888 – 25 March 1940) was a Romanian composer and head of the Bucharest Conservatory (now the National University of Music) from 1918 until 1940. He was born in Bucharest and died there at the age of 51, having played an influential role in the musical life of his native country.List of organ symphonies
An organ symphony is a piece for solo pipe organ in various movements. It is a symphonic genre, not so much in musical form (in which it is more similar to the organ sonata or suite), but in imitating orchestral tone color, texture, and symphonic process.
Though the very first organ symphony was written by German composer Wilhelm Valentin Volckmar in 1867, the genre is mainly associated with French romanticism. César Franck wrote what is considered to be the first French organ symphony in his Grande Pièce Symphonique, and the composers Charles-Marie Widor, who wrote ten organ symphonies, and his pupil Louis Vierne, who wrote six, continued to cultivate the genre. Modern composers such as Aaron Copland and Jean Guillou have written organ symphonies as well. The genre is considered to have been brought to fruition in the second organ symphony of André Fleury.
This page lists the best known symphonies for solo pipe organ and symphonies for orchestra and organ. Organ concertos (such as those by George Frideric Handel, Francis Poulenc, and David Briggs) are not listed here.Louis Vierne
Louis Victor Jules Vierne (8 October 1870 – 2 June 1937) was a French organist and composer.Marie-Madeleine Duruflé
Marie-Madeleine Duruflé (née Chevalier; 8 May 1921 – 5 October 1999) was a world-famous organist.
She is generally considered to be the last great representative of the French romantic school of organists, which emphasised elegant grandeur, clarity of texture and freedom of rhythm. She gave incomparable interpretations of works from French organists, like Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, Jean Langlais, Marcel Dupré and her husband Maurice Duruflé.Pierre Labric
Pierre Labric (born June 30, 1921 in Conches-en-Ouche) is a French organist, pedagogue and composer.
Pierre Labric studied the organ at Rouen Conservatory under Marcel Lanquetuit, and at the Paris Conservatoire with Marcel Dupré and Maurice Duruflé. Later, he studied organ privately with Jeanne Demessieux, whose complete organ works he recorded on LP. During Jeanne Demessieux's tenure as titular organist at La Madeleine in Paris, he was her assistant and substitute. He also substituted for Pierre Cochereau at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Pierre Labric recorded the complete organ symphonies of Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor (both as world premiere recordings), the Preludes and Fugues of Camille Saint-Saëns and the complete Promenades en Provence of Eugène Reuchsel.
The majority of his recordings were made at Saint-Ouen in Rouen with its famous organ from 1890 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (although Labric was never titular organist at this church).Requiem (Saint-Saëns)
The Requiem, full title Messe de Requiem, Op. 54, is a Requiem Mass composed by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1878 for soloists, choir and orchestra. He composed it in memory of his friend and patron, Albert Libon, and conducted the first performance on 22 May 1878 at Saint-Sulpice in Paris, with Charles-Marie Widor as the organist. It was first published the same year.Semi-contrabassoon
The semi-contrabassoon (also called quint bassoon, semi-contra or half-contra) is a double reed woodwind instrument pitched between the bassoon and the contrabassoon. It is pitched in either F (quint bass) or G (quart bass) a fifth or fourth, respectively, below the bassoon.
These instruments were used mostly in the 18th century and are remnants of the old quart bass dulcians. They were considered easier to make than the larger contrabassoon. A semi-contrabassoon was shaped like an oversized bassoon, between 5 and 6 feet (1.5–1.8 m) tall with a long descending bocal. Little literature exists that indicate that these instruments were used, although it is possible that they may have been used to some extent in military bands. No attempt to revive this instrument in the present day has been made. The great organist Charles Marie Widor in his book on orchestration expected that the semi-contra would be added to the orchestra’s roster.
The basson-quinte has not yet been made, but bassoon-players are calling for it. It would form the true bass of the Woodwind group, a fifth below the standard instrument, descending consequently to E♭, a semitone lower than the double bass. The low A, which Wagner wrote below B♭ is admirably rich and full; 'then', say professionals, 'why not descend to E♭, with the same fingering and the same capabilities as the ordinary bassoon?' We have already seen that the low fifth, from double B♭ to double F, is sufficiently robust to bear any weight of sound; the "new" low fifth would be still more robust. The basson-quinte is said do be easy of construction; we look to instrument makers to provide us with it in the near future.
No instruments were ever constructed on his instigation. Widor's remarks come in light of the dismal state of the French contrabassoon in the late 19th century, which was generally replaced with a contrabass sarrusophone. Famous operetta composer Arthur Sullivan is said to have owned a semi-contra in F and included parts for it in some of his operettas. Aside from the Great (quart) bass dulcians, the only modern reproductions of historical semi-contras are being made by Guntram Wolf of Germany.Seth Bingham
Seth Daniels Bingham (April 16, 1882 – June 21, 1972) was an American organist and prolific composer.Symphony for Organ No. 5
The Symphony for Organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, No. 1, was composed by Charles-Marie Widor in 1879, with numerous revisions published by the composer in later years. The full symphony lasts for about 35 minutes.Symphony for Organ No. 6
The Symphony for Organ No. 6 (Symphonie VI pour orgue) in G minor, Op. 42, No. 2, is an organ symphony by Charles-Marie Widor. Completed in 1878, the composer premiered it at the Palais du Trocadéro as part of the Paris World Exhibition. It was first published by Hamelle in 1879, together with the famous Symphony for Organ No. 5.