52. Charles Marie Widor [365 Composers for 2013]


21st February – Charles Marie Widor


Widor (21st February 1844 – 12 March 1937) is our composer for 21st February, to mark the day of his birth.
Nationality: French
Lifespan: 93 years
Genre: Romantic
Education: privately, in Paris
Fame Ranking: 3

Widor was descended from a family of organ makers, and so it was natural that he himself would follow in his family’s footsteps. Not only did he study playing the organ from an early age, but his family’s contacts within the musical world enabled him to procure high calibre lessons privately, in particular with Francois-Joseph Fetis who was director of the Brussels Conservatoire. Fetis taught Widor composition.

In 1870 Widor was provisionally appointed as organist at Paris’s second largest church (after Notre Dame), Saint Sulpice. He remained in this “provisional” role for the following 64 years. Alongside this post, Widor was also a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, a prominent organ recitalist and of course, a composer. In 1921 he went on to found and direct his own musical conservatory in Fontainbleau, named the “American Conservatory” because of the involvement of the US army during the the First World War. US General Pershing had wanted to improve the quality of American military band music and had already aided the foundation of a music school elsewhere – the Fontainbleau school was the second branch.

Despite his prolific output, which includes ballet, opera and songs, Widor is best known today for his organ works. He composed ten organ symphonies and three symphonies for orchestra with organ. Of these, the final “toccata” movement of his 5th Organ Symphony is his most famous work, being a firm favourite at wedding ceremonies around the world. Widor, apparently, was left unimpressed with the speed that many organists performed this piece, preferring a slower more measured performance himself. Despite being called “symphonies”, Widor’s organ symphonies are written for solo organ, without an orchestra.

Here is Widor’s famous Toccata:




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