Widor, Charles-Marie (1844-1937)

Charles-Marie Widor

born: 21 February 1844
died: 12 March 1937
country: France

The case of Charles-Marie Widor (1844–1937) is a curious one. The familiar image is of the composer-organist in old age at the console of Saint-Sulpice where he had served as titulaire for over six decades. As for Widor’s music, he shares with Henry Litolff the odd distinction of being famous for a single movement. Litolff is remembered for the Scherzo from his Concerto symphonique No 4, Widor for the Toccata from his fifth Organ Symphony. This ranks high among the most famous of all organ pieces, but the rest of Widor’s output—including orchestral and chamber music, stage works and songs—has been neglected. As for his private life, he remained a raffish bachelor with a well-honed eye for attractive women until—at the age of seventy-six—he married Mathilde de Montesquiou-Fézensac, forty years his junior.

Born in Lyon on 21 February 1844, Widor’s musical studies followed an unorthodox route. Rather than going to the Paris Conservatoire, he was encouraged by the organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (a family friend) to study privately in Brussels with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens (whose French pupils already included Alexandre Guilmant) and with the venerable François-Joseph Fétis. Back in Paris, Cavaillé-Coll promoted his protégé, introducing him to Liszt, Rossini and Saint-Saëns. Widor’s playing as a young man was of such quality that he was invited to participate in the prestigious inaugurations of the organs at Notre-Dame and La Trinité, and in 1869 he became Saint-Saëns’s assistant at the Madeleine. In 1870, supported by recommendations from Gounod and Cavaillé-Coll, he was appointed Lefébure-Wély’s successor as titulaire of Saint-Sulpice, the post he was to hold for the next sixty-four years, and his earliest assistants included Fauré and Messager. In ‘Organ Loft Whisperings’ published in the Musical Courier in 1893, Fanny Edgar Thomas gave a description of Widor:

His coloring is brown. It is a long face, the features regularly divided, even with an unusually high brow, and a strong, straight nose. The head is pleasingly shaped; the hair upon it slight and fine and brown … The eyes are large, round, brown, clear and inquiring, full of a changing expression that is very interesting to watch. The slender fingers have that slight turn upward at the point indicating the musician, and he has a very slight lisp.

Writing in 1894, Hugues Imbert recognized the importance of his friend’s organ music, but this was not what had first brought Widor’s name to wider notice: ‘His organ works, novel in terms of form, have been much remarked upon by connoisseurs. The two productions that made him known to the general public were the ballet La korrigane performed at the Opéra in December 1881 and Jeanne d’Arc, a grande pantomime musicale given at the Hippodrome in June 1890.’

from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2011

Albums

Widor, Dupré & Vierne: Choral Music
CDA66898
Widor: Piano Concertos & Fantaisie
CDA67817
Widor: Symphony No 5
CDH55144Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Widor: The Organ Symphonies, Vol. 1
Studio Master: SIGCD292Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Widor: The Organ Symphonies, Vol. 2
Studio Master: SIGCD319Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Widor: The Organ Symphonies, Vol. 3
Studio Master: SIGCD334Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Dupré, Vierne & Widor: Choral Music
CDA66898
French Cello Music
CDA67244Archive Service
Heroic and Ceremonial Music for brass and organ
CDA66275Archive ServiceDownload currently discounted
Organ Dreams, Vol. 4
CDA67436Archive Service
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1
CDA66121Archive Service
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 11
CDA67577
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4
CDA66605Archive Service
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 9
CDA67228Archive ServiceDownload currently discounted
Vibraciones del Alma
CKD331Download only
Vierne, Widor & Dupré: Choral Music
CDA66898

Complete works available for download

Cello Sonata in A major, Op 80Mats Lidström (cello), Bengt Forsberg (piano)
Fantaisie in A flat major, Op 62Markus Becker (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thierry Fischer (conductor)
Introduction et Rondo, Op 72Maximiliano Martín (clarinet), Scott Mitchell (piano)
Marche américaine, Op 31Christopher Herrick (organ)
Messe à deux chœurs et deux orgues, Op 36Westminster Cathedral Choir, The Hyperion Chorus of Baritones, James O'Donnell (conductor), Joseph Cullen (organ), Andrew Reid (organ)
Organ Symphony No 1 in C minor, Op 13 No 1Joseph Nolan (organ)
Organ Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 13 No 2Joseph Nolan (organ)
Organ Symphony No 3 in E minor, Op 13 No 3Joseph Nolan (organ)
Organ Symphony No 4 in F minor, Op 13 No 4Joseph Nolan (organ)
Organ Symphony No 5 in F minor, Op 42 No 1Joseph Nolan (organ)
Organ Symphony No 5 in F minor, Op 42 No 1David Hill (organ)
Organ Symphony No 6 in G minor, Op 42 No 2Joseph Nolan (organ)
Piano Concerto No 1 in F minor, Op 39Markus Becker (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thierry Fischer (conductor)
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 77Markus Becker (piano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Thierry Fischer (conductor)
Salvum fac populum tuum, Op 84London Gabrieli Brass Ensemble, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ), Christopher Larkin (conductor)
Surrexit a mortuis, Op 23 No 3Westminster Cathedral Choir, James O'Donnell (conductor), Joseph Cullen (organ), Andrew Reid (organ)
Tantum ergo, Op 18 No 1Westminster Cathedral Choir, The Hyperion Chorus of Baritones, James O'Donnell (conductor), Joseph Cullen (organ)
Tu es Petrus, Op 23 No 2Westminster Cathedral Choir, The Hyperion Chorus of Baritones, James O'Donnell (conductor), Joseph Cullen (organ), Andrew Reid (organ)