Notice: Undefined index: HTTP_REFERER in /var/www/clients/client22378/web21799/web/tracker.php on line 4

Charles-Marie Widor

TON REIJNAERDTS AUDIO PRODUCTIONS PHOTO GALLERY

 

Charles-Marie Widor op leeftijd

 

On hearing the name of Charles-Marie Widor, for many people the celebrated Toccata from the 5th Organ Symphony will immediately spring to mind. This does no justice to the versatility of this great personality. Although Widor's prime interest was the organ, he was in fact a man of the world who as a composer worked in many different styles. As well as his 10 organ symphonies he wrote several symphonies for grand orchestra, some with organ. He rewrote Berlioz' Traité d'Orchestration et d'Instrumentation, later consulted by Igor Strawinsky. He also composed songs, chamber music, masses, ballet music and even operas. Apart from this Widor found time as secretary of the Academie des Beaux-Arts to support French culture in general in France and abroad. In this function he was responsible for the removal of important treasures from the Louvre to safer locations during the First World War. As a human and as a teacher, Widor must have had an imposing and noble nature, helping his fellow citizens in need. He supported the reopening of his former pupil Albert Schweitzer's hospital at Lambarene, after it had closed its doors during the Great War. His function as an ambassador of the Arts brought him in contact with the elite of the world of arts. Kings and politicians were among his friends. King Alphonso of Spain came to see Widor while visiting Paris to thank him for his efforts in respect of the building of the Casa Velasquez, a Spanish version of the Villa Medici, where gifted young artists could study by aid of a grant.

Charles-Marie Widor was born in 1844 at Lyon. Although his parents were both born in France, his father's ancestors (Widor) came from Hungary. It was through Aristide Cavaillé-Coll's (1811-1899) merit that Widor was offered a chance to study with the great Belgian organ pedagogue Nicolaas Widor as a young man Lemmens (1823-1881) in Brussels. His composition teacher there was François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871), then Director of the Brussels Conservatoire. This man's analytical approach to the music of the classical masters Bach, Handel, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven would leave its mark in Widor's style. On his return to France Widor was asked by Cavaillé-Coll to test his newly built organs at numerous inauguration concerts. In France a new organ culture had began to flourish after a long period of decay caused by the French Revolution in 1789, when many churches and their treasures, including some beautiful organs by Clicquot and other organ builders, were demolished. When the churches started to function again decades later there was a great need for new organs and here Cavaillé-Coll entered the scene. Cavaillé-Coll was a master organ builder who gave the instrument greater power, expanding it on an unprecedented scale with new possibilities and a greater wind pressure, allowing it to compete with the symphony-orchestra. His innovations made effective use of newly developed technologies like the Barker lever system, making coupled playing easier (previously difficult because of heavy exertion required by the organist). Many improvements were made to stops and coupling facilities, e.g. appèls d'anches, made possible by a divided wind system. Overblowing flutes were introduced. One instrument after another by Cavaillé-Coll was inaugurated, in total more than 600 in France and in other European countries. Rivals like Franck, Guilmant, Alkan, Benoist, Dubois, Gigout, Saint-SaŽns and Widor each brotherly delivered their own contributions to these inauguration concerts. Cavaillé-Coll was not only involved in the production of organs, he also supported financially young talented organists like Widor, Guilmant, Loret and Mailly so they could proceed their studies with Nicolaas Lemmens. At the same time a fertile period of titular organists started in Paris, Cesar Franck at Ste. Clotilde, Saint-SaŽns at the Madeleine, Widor at St. Sulpice (from 1870 onwards), Guilmant at the église de la Trinité, Gigout at St. Augustin. The most talented among them were Franck and Widor.

Charles-Marie Widor

Widor's 8th Organ Symphony is a milestone in the organ literature. Never before had there been an organ work of such duration and so typical for the era of the Industrial Revolution with all its renewals and drive for expansion. It is a Symphony in the real sense of the word with a highly developed degree of contrapuntal control and mastery of the form. Within the actual Symphony, which is formed by the first three movements and the last two, Widor added two further ones. Prélude and Variations, forming a unity between the greater structure. In later versions of this Symphony the Prélude was omitted. In Variations, a kind of passacaglia, Widor reaches unprecedented peaks of his mastership. To write a variation structure lasting over twelve minutes without encountering a single dull moment and not a trace of monotony is a great achievement indeed. The Symphony starts off very imposing in the Allegro Risoluto, a sonata form where a diatonic tune similar to Gregorian plain chant, repeatedly returning in altered versions throughout the Symphony (cyclic principle), forms part of an ascension of gigantic Brucknerian structures of climaxes and anti-climaxes. It makes clever use of swell-effects and terrace-dynamics, while simultaneously the pedal-playing is developed to great height. From a technical viewpoint the whole composition is extremely demanding, enhanced by the pianistic influence of Franz Liszt. Yet it is typical organ music perfectly suited for the big instrument of Widor at St. Sulpice, where he was organist for 63 years! The grandeur and brilliance of the opening Allegro returns in the Variations and the Finale. Every possibility of the organ is demonstrated, as in the use of 32 ft stops, appèls d'anches, swell-effects, solovoices, etc. In contrast with these dynamically charged movements are Moderato Cantabile (track 2) and Adagio (track 6), with beautiful solo voices and equally beautiful songthemes. Here Widor's richness in style had reached its full potential and approaches the best works of Franck. In these slow movements the use of the counterpoint is very clever, although some parts are not easy to perform, e.g. when one has to play on 3 manuals at the same time. The Moderato Cantabile is a really lovely piece with gentle usage of the Voix Celestes. The same serenity can be found in the Adagio, although the mood there is rather melancholic and resembles Widor's later Organ Symphonies (Gothique, Romane). The middle part of the Adagio is a type of fugue, which cleverly leads back to the song theme using sustained pedal points. Typical of this Symphony is the use of classical forms, e.g. sonata form, prelude, fugue, passacaglia. The Allegro (track 3) has a lot of canonic invention. It is a brilliant virtuoso piece with scherzo elements. The canon is repeated at the end between the upper voice and the pedal. Very beautiful is the refinement of the coda (in this original first edition), where one senses that Widor probably possessed a healthy sense of humour. The grandeur of the first movement of the Symphony returns in the Finale, also starting with a fanfare- like motive, a piece with rondo affinities. The first theme testifies to Widor's bravura and pride which he undoubtedly would have radiated when playing his own works. The Symphony ends very daringly. Near the end a few modem, dissonant chords surprise the listener, even more astounding when one realises that this composition dates back to 1887 or earlier. That is when the second set of Organ Symphonies (nos. 5- 8) was published. The first set (nos. 1-4) had appeared in 1872. It was not until 1937 that this great mind respired his last breath. Widor's pupil Louis Vierne followed the same year and another gifted pupil, Charles Tournemire died 2 years later.

Ton Reijnaerdts (text from cd TRA 2000-03)

 

Widor in de Saint-Sulpice

 

Widor's third Organ Symphony as we know it today was not created overnight, but is in fact the result of several revisions of earlier versions. In 1872, Widor's first set of organ symphonies, ns. 1 - 4, appeared as Opus 13, by music editor Maho. In 1887 Opus 13 was published again by editor Hamelle, together with the later Opus 42 : the organ symphonies ns. 5 - 8. The former symphonies were revised at the occasion, with particular consequences for the Third Symphony. In the version of 1872 the work had five movements: Prélude, Menuetto, Marcia, Andantino and Fugue. In 1887 the Finale was added as the sixth movement, while the Marcia was extended and various adaptations were made to the other movements. At a later age Widor - the perfectionist - continued revising his earlier works, which implies that the Finale, after the revisions of 1901, 1918 and 1927, became a completely different work from that of 1887. Only thematical material was taken over from the first version, while in the later revision, the development of this material is of a completely different nature which reminds one of the mature works of an elderly Widor. The specific character of organs built by Cavaillé-Coll with their wide, massive choirs of ground stops; their orchestral groups of reeds; their majestical and imposing tutti; their sonorous solo voices like harmonic flutes, quiet strings and specific reeds, does an excellent job right from the beginning of the Prélude. Though the matter is of a different order here, one can hear in the pregnant and grave first movement of the symphony shadows of the past, which prove that Widor knew his Bach very well (Widor wrote the preface to Albert Schweizer's Bach-biography and directed performances of St. Matthew's Passion, together with the Concordia Society, which he himself had founded). The second movement of the symphony, the Minuetto, is very tranquil and refers to old forms and influences, just like the first movement. The piece is cleverly written with regard to voice leading and inventiveness. The central part is beautifully subdued: the cantilenes are performed by reeds (Basson-hautbois and Trompette) and accompanied by quiet flutes in the manual and pedal. After the chamber music-like Minuetto the said Marcia makes an enormous impact. This imposing showpiece has won a great deal melodically in the later versions. Silence rules again in the Adagio, which is in the form of a canon, modulating in a clever way through related keys. In its final version as performed on this CD, the symphony ends with the Finale which was added later. This is a turbulent, virtuoso piece with many dynamic contrasts. Most crescendo-effects are realised by swell effects on the Récit and by manual changes, rarely by pulling the stops. With the organ builder Cavaillé-Coll, the Récit became a favorite expressive part of the organ: one can realise great dynamic effects by opening and closing the slats in a wooden case which contains pipes. The Finale in the version of 1927 is one of the highlights in Widor's oeuvre. It is greatly balanced in structure and material. Single-handedly the organist controls an entire orchestra of organpipes, enabled to do so by Cavaillé-Coll who installed special treadboards to activate the reeds (appel d'anches) and other auxiliary devices.

Ton Reijnaerdts (text from cd TRA 2003-02)