2012-11-18 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

“Allegro Cantabile” by Charles-Marie Widor

Widor composed ten organ “symphonies,” which are multi-movement works that parallel the large symphonic form of works written for orchestra during the nineteenth century.  “Allegro Cantabile” is the second movement from Widor’s Organ Symphony Number Five in F-minor, the work that the famous “Toccata” is from.  In contrast to the perpetual motion style of Widor’s best-known movement, this one resembles a contemplative “song without words,” with hauntingly beautiful melodies and makes use of the more subtle resources of the organ.

Among the most well-known composers for the organ during the late nineteenth century is the French organist, Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937).  Widor was a professor at the Paris Conservatoire, first succeeding César Franck as teacher of the organ class, and later in composition.  Many of Widor’s students became famous in their own right, among them, Marcel Dupré, Louis Vierne and Charles Tournemire.

In 1870, Widor was appointed the “provisional” organist for the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, one of the most prominent church positions in France.  Saint-Sulpice is the home to the largest organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, his magnum opus with five manuals and 102 stops.  Widor held this position until 1933, however, he was never granted the title “titular”.  He was internationally famous as a concert organist and performed recitals throughout Europe.  Widor is also known for his advocacy of the organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach; he demanded that his organ students have the playing technique necessary to master Bach’s music, and also collaborated with his student, Albert Schweitzer, on an edition of Bach’s organ works.

While Widor is best known for his organ compositions, he wrote music for operas and ballets, as well as works for choir, solo voice, orchestra, small ensembles and piano.  However, these other works are really heard, the organ pieces are his only works that are performed regularly.

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