Widor, Charles-Marie (-Jean-Albert)

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Widor, Charles-Marie (-Jean-Albert)

Widor, Charles-Marie (-Jean-Albert), distinguished French organist, pedagogue, and composer; b. Lyons, Feb. 21, 1844; d. Paris, March 12, 1937. His father, an Alsatian of Hungarian descent, was organist at the church of St.-François in Lyons and was active as an organ builder. Widor was a skillful improviser on the organ while still a boy, and became organist at the Lyons lycee when he was 11. After studies with Fétis (composition) and Lemmens (organ) in Brussels, he became organist at St.-François in Lyons (1860), and gained high repute via provincial concerts. In 1870-71 he held a provisional appointment as organist at St.-Sulpice in Paris, where he served as organist from 1871 until 1934. On April 19, 1934, he played his Pièce mystique there, composed at age 90. Around 1880 he began writing music criticism under the pen name “Aulétès” for the daily VEstafette. In 1890 he became prof, of organ and in 1896 prof, of composition at the Paris Cons. In 1910 he was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, of which he became permanent secretary in 1913. He had many distinguished pupils, including Albert Schweitzer, with whom he collaborated in editing the first 5 vols, of an 8-vol. ed. of J.S. Bach’s organ works (N.Y., 1912-14). As a composer, he wrote copiously in many forms but is best known for his organ music, especially his 10 “symphonies” (suites). A master organ virtuoso, he won great renown for his performances of Bach and for his inspired improvisations.


dramatic: (all 1st perf. in Paris): Maître Am-bros, opera (May 6,1886); Les Pêcheurs de Saint- Jean, opera (Dec. 26,1905); Nerto, opera (Oct. 27,1924); La Korrigane, ballet (Dec. 1, 1880); Jeanne d’Arc, ballet-pantomime (1890); also incidental music to Conte d’avril (Sept. 22, 1885) and to Les Jacobites (Nov. 21,1885). ORCH.: Syms.: No. 1 (c. 1870), No. 2 (1886), and No. 3 for Organ and Orch. (1895); Sinfonia sacra for Organ and Orch. (1908); Symphonie antique for Organ and Orch. (1911); 2 piano concertos (1876,1906); Cello Concerto (1882); La Nuit de Walpurgis, symphonic poem for Chorus and Orch. (c. 1887; London, April 19, 1888); Fantasie for Piano and Orch. (1889); Ouverture espagnole (1898); Choral et variations for Harp and Orch. (1900). CHAMBER: 2 piano quintets (c. 1890, 1896); Piano Quartet (1891); Piano Trio (1875); Sérénade for Piano, Flute, Violin, Cello, and Harmonium (c. 1883); 4 pièces for Piano, Violin, and Cello (1890); Suite for Flute and Piano (1898); Soirs d’Alsace for Piano, Violin, and Cello (1908); Introduction et rondo for Clarinet and Piano (1898); 3 pièces for Oboe and Piano (1909); Suite for Cello and Piano (1912); Suite florentine for Piano and Flute or Violin (1920). KEYBOARD: Piano: Variations de concert sur un thème original (1867); 6 morceaux de salon (1872); 6 valses caractéristiques (1877); 12 feuillets d’album (1877); La Barque (1877); La Corricolo (1877); Suite polonaise (c. 1885); Suite (c. 1887); Conte d’automne (1904); Suite écossaise (c. 1905). O r g a n : 10 syms.: Nos. 1-4 (1876), Nos. 5-8 (c. 1880), Symphonie gothique (1895), and Symphonie romaine (1900); Suite latine (1927); 3 nouvelles pièces (1934); Pièce mystique (c. 1934); 8 sonatas. VOCAL: Many works, both sacred and secular, with instrumental and orch. accompaniment.


(all publ. in Paris): Technique de l’orchestre moderne (1904; 5th ed., rev. and enl., 1925; Eng. tr., 1906; 2nd ed., rev., 1946); Notice sur la vie et les oeuvres de Camille Saint-Saëns (1922); Initiation musicale (1923); Académie des Beaux-Arts: Fondations, portraits de Massenet à Paladilhe (1927); L’Orgue moderne: La Décadence dans la facture contemporaine (1928).


H. Reynaud, L’Œuvre de C.-M. W.(Lyons, 1900); J. Rupp, C.-M. W. und sein Werk (Bremen, 1912); A. Thomson, The Life and Times of C.-M. W., 1844-1937 (Oxford, 1988); S. Hiemke, Die Bach-Rezeption C.-M. W.s (Frankfurt am Main, 1994); B. van Oosten, C.-M. W.: Vater der Orgelsymphonie (Paderborn, 1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire