Symphonie Nr. 3.op.69. Symphonie Sacra op.81 fur Orgel und Orchester Vol.8
Paul Wiskirehen - Organ
Philharmonia Hungarica, Gurzeniechorehester Koln
Volker Hempfling, Leitung
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When people are asked about their knowledge of Charles-Marie Widor, they simply mention his ("the") Toccata from his 5th Symphony for Organ, and those particularly interested in organ music know about his monumental ten symphonies, covering opus 13, 42, 70 and 73.
However, Widor has composed more than 150 works, including many works for solo piano and other instruments, like flute, clarinet, violin, cello, three concertos for piano and orchestra, a concerto for harp and orchestra, for violoncello and orchestra, two symphonies for orchestra, Symphony Antique for orchestra and choir, chamber music, several choral works like motets, a mass for two choirs and two organs, furthermore three ballets (like Conte d'Avril and La Korrigane), which were also widely acclaimed - 160 performances! - four operas, about 60 "melodies" on texts of well-known French poets like Victor Hugo, Paul Bourget, etc., and not to forget: he harmonized the piano accompaniment of an album with songs for little children, such as "Au clair de la lune", "Sur le pont d'Avignon" and so on.
As a tribute to this too much neglected great son of France this world premiere recording of two of his important works for organ and orchestra has been released.
Charles-Marie Jean Albert Widor was born on 21st February 1844 in Lyon, where his father, Francois Charles, was a musician, composer, "professeur d'orgue" and titular organ-player of the church Saint-Francois-de-Sales. His mother was Fran-coise Elisabeth Widor-Peiron. The family further consisted of son Marie-Joseph Albert Paul and daughter Jeanne Francoise Marie, born resp. in 1847 and 1848.
In an interview Charles-Marie once said: "My vocation? I was born in an organ pipe, since my father was an organ-player in Lyon and my grandfather an organ builder at Rouffach (Alsace)."
Widor's grandfather came to Alsace via Switzerland and was of Hungarian descent. He worked with Callinet's Organ Building Firm. Charles-Marie's father gave him his early organ education at the age of about four years. At the same time Widor attended the school of the Humanities (Lycee) which institute awarded him the degree "Brevet de Bachelier" at the age of 17. It was Charles-Marie of course who became the organ-player of this Lyc6e, where he played the organ during the services in the old Chapelle des Jesuites, and in this way financed his school studies.
Cavaille-Coll Pere, an intimate friend of the Widor family, convinced Charles-Marie's parents to let their son continue his organ education at the famous Brussels Conservatory, where during 1862-1863 he was a pupil of Lemmens for about fifteen months. Lemmens was the latest member of a line of teachers directly connected to Bach via Kittel, Rinck, Hesse. Lemmens taught him traditional German interpretations of Bach -and he was also trained in playing a full-pedal board. Furthermore Widor received a profound tuition in composition from Fetis.
His Brussels period made him a fully professional organ-player and crucially influenced his career. Also in Brussels Widor got acquainted with other musicians like Vieuxtemps, Leonard, Thompson and the young Ysaie.
Widor was given a provisional one year appointment, succeeding Louis Lefe-bure-Wely, at the magnificent organ tribune of Saint Sulpice, Paris. He remained there for 64 years, playing the large Ca-vaille-Coll organ.
Although Widor's fame as a performer was established all over Europe during many concert tours to England, Germany, Russia, Italy, Portugal, Holland, Spain, etc., his most prominent influence was through his teaching. End of 1890 he succeeded Cesar Franck at the organ class at the Conservatoire, where he stayed until October, 1896, after which he became Professor of Composition, replacing Theodore Dubois.
About his pupils were Charles Tour-nemire, Louis Vierne and his brother Rene Vierne, Henri Libert, Alphonse Schmidt, Albert Schweitzer and Marcel Dupre; as to composition Gabriel Dupont, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Edgar Varese, Nadia Boulanger have to be mentioned in particular.
Widor was elected to the Academic des Beaux-Arts in 1910 and became its permanent secretary a few years later. During his life Widor has known important musicians like Rossini, Wagner, Bizet, Liszt, Gounod, Lalo, Delibes and he was a friend of Saint-Saens, Massenet and Reyer.
Vierne, about his friend and teacher: Apart from being a skilled musician and having a brilliant imagination, Widor had a general culture which he deepened and enlarged during his life; he was a man with good taste, an essayist, receptive to beautiful expressions in many forms, he lived an intellectual way of life in many varied aspects, was a "charmant causeur" full of anecdotes. Widor was warm-hearted despite his reserve, energetic, demanding as a teacher, but dedicated to his students.
Many honours were bestowed on Widor: he was nominated Knight of the Legion of Honour, received the Papal Order of St. Gregorius, the Russian Order of Stanislas, the Belgian Order of Leopold and the Portuguese Christian Order and was a Member of the Royal Academies of Berlin, Brussels and Stockholm. Charles-Marie Jean Albert Widor died on 12th March, 1937, 19 days after his 93rd birthday. The funeral was held in the Saint Sulpice and Marcel Dupre, his successor, played the organ.
In Geneva, Switzerland, in the period around 1890, Sir Daniel Fitzgerald Barton was the consul-general for England. He was also the president of the "Harmonie Nautique", a major orchestra in Geneva, which was very much in need of a location for practising and performances.
Sir Daniel Barton, being a rich man, decided to have a concert hall built, which was named Victoria Hall. In this hall Sir Daniel Barton also wished to have a suitable organ installed; the Swiss firm Kuhn was honoured with the order.
For the inauguration of the Victoria Hall and its organ, Widor was requested to compose a major work for organ and the "Harmonie Nautique", which request Widor accepted as an honour, of course.
The result was a splendid, beautiful work, his 3. Symphony opus 69 in E minor; Widor finished the composing itself on 15.9.1893 and the symphony found its premiere during the inauguration concert in the Victoria Hall on 3rd December, 1894.
It is interesting to know that the son of the Paris tenor Massol, who lived in Geneva, has brought Sir Daniel Barton and Widor together, recommending Widor "comme un organiste tout a fait a part en tant que compositeur, c'est lui qui vous fera cela". Sir Daniel and Widor became friends.
This 3rd Symphony for Organ and Orchestra has found wide acclaim right from the beginning all over Europe, where the work was performed f.i. in Berlin, London, Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Strasburg. This work as well as the Sinfonia Sacra, both Widor works for organ and orchestra have greatly contributed to the French resp. European music literature as to the combination of organ and orchestra.
In this work -as in the Sinfonia Sacra- the organ is not functioning as a typical solo instrument but more as a second orchestra with its own sound. It will be clear that, when taking into account the large size of the orchestra prescribed by Widor, an organ as large and fine as this orchestra is required in order to match it and give the right answer in the dialogue between the two.
The work has two main parts, the first being an adagio/andante and the second scherzo/allegro. Dominating in this work is a choral-like theme ("Leitmotiv"), executed by the organ. This "melody" more or less connects the sub- and main parts of the work, giving it a very special atmosphere. After a short adagio the organ is heard in the fifth bar, presenting the theme, repeating and developing it in the eighth bar, moving the soul of the listener in a misteriosamente. Of great importance is the English horn which presents its cantilene theme in this symphony.
In the second part of the work, scherzo/allegro, we notice the vivid character and movements of the violins, giving regularly their answer to the horns, trumpets, etc., whereby the tempi gradually go up, building a growing tension in the orchestra, until finally in bar 25 the "other orchestra", The organ, presents its choral theme in thunderous ff. A dialogue between organ and orchestra gradually leads the symphony to a great finale, in which organ, trumpets and tubas unitedly "dictate" the choral-like theme to the whole orchestra, ending in a great hymn. Widor the church musician par excellence!
Of course, this work was dedicated to Sir Daniel Barton! (Edition Schott, Germany).
The Sinfonia Sacra of Widor has been published in 1908 in Leipzig with Otto Junne and with Hamelle in Paris.
The influence of Widor's friend Albert Schweitzer on the creation of his most beautiful choral-symphony (symphony based on a choral melody) is mentioned by Emile Rupp. Schweitzer made suggestions for the registration of the organ part for use on so-called German organs.
His whole life Widor has been a great admirer of the Cantor Bach of Leipzig. His study with Lernmens in Brussels, his own knowledge of Bach's Chorals and his close cooperation with Albert Schweitzer must have given him the inspiration for the Sinfonia Sacra. Widor was around sixty years of age when he created this fine work in a mood of seriousness and serenity, the mood of Gothique and Ro-mane, maybe the melancholy in his life.
Schweitzer comments the work as follows: "The Sinfonia Sacra is based on the Advent Choral "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland", in words and melody derived from the hymn "Veni Redemptor gentium".
The Sinfonia is constructed in three parts which are however thematically connected to each other. The first part is based on the first part of the melody, in the second part a second and third theme are used and built up, and the third part builds a fugue on the final of the melody.
In the beginning of the Sinfonia mankind is awaiting the Saviour, in lamentations. The choral then soon appears in the music, as a star in darkness. At first the choral theme is beautifully presented by the solo violin and thereafter by the organ, whereas the trumpets and trombones (Posaune) follow, but the choral is unable to soothe the sorrow of the people awaiting their Saviour, and the theme fades away. Then the organ presents itself in full glory as if clouds are removed by sunshine; the orchestra hesitates, presents some cords and is inclined to resume lamenting. The organ's flutes show a chain of trills during which heavenly music of the instruments is heard, changing to a dialogue ' with the organ in mysterious sounds on the second and third verse of the choral.
The performance of the angels ends and the orchestra wonders what happened, wants to revert but finds only the sorrow motive of the beginning. The organ, in mighty cords, sounds, and all instruments modulate to the major key. The instruments stop lamenting and proceed into the last part of the melody, which is transformed into a vivid theme, passing into a large fugue. Finally: great exultations! Strings and wood instruments imitate and basses and trombones develop the full melody into a canon form, whereafter full organ sounds bring all those movements to an end. The choral melody is heard, mighty unisono of wood and brass, carried by full harmonies and sounds of the organ and pushed by the strings. All motives of the Sinfonia are shown in serenity. The theme of lamentation of the beginning of the work has changed into a jubilant hymn."
Schweitzer poetic comments to the most beautiful work of his friend and teacher Widor has been given here in honour to both great men in music.
The work has been dedicated to the "Koniglichen Akademie der Schtinen Kimste" in Berlin.
In 1904 Charles-Marie Widor has published a handbook on instrumentation "Technique de l'orchestre moderne", translated into other languages. When studying and listening to the two works of this record, the only conclusion can be: Widor was a great instrumentalist in all respects.
-Johan H. den Otter