Widor: Organ Symphonies Nos. 5, 6, 8-10
Charles-Marie Widor: this name is the embodiment of French organ music of the nineteenth century. The illustrious organ builder Cavaillé-Coll promoted Widor’s career while he was still a student and recommended him for the post of titular organist at St-Sulpice. Widor quickly gained renown as a composer, and his ten symphonies for organ solo are regarded even today as the non plus ultra of the virtuoso French school. Christian Schmitt’s release of Widor’s first four organ symphonies immediately demonstrated that this musician ranking as the most outstanding German organist of the younger generation was their congenial interpreter. Now Schmitt interprets the six other symphonies on the St-Ouen Abbey Church constructed by Cavaillé-Coll from 1888 to 1890. Widor is said to have described this instrument as “Une orgue à Michel-Ange” – a reference to the universal artist Michelangelo that may be interpreted to mean that for him this organ was just as multifaceted and perfect. The St-Ouen organ was one of the last instruments designed by Cavaillé-Coll. Since it has been preserved without changes, it is of great historical significance. And the opportunity to experience this music and the organ in spectacular SS makes for magnificent listening. In formal respects not so much changes in the fifth and sixth symphonies. Both continue to have five movements and adapt to the “classical” orchestral symphonic formats only in some passages. The rich sound palette of the organ, which leads to a majestic tutti, plays a more important role than in the orchestra. In his organ symphonies Widor seems to assign central importance to the presentation of the organ’s infinitely combinable tones in the context of the most very different forms. Another Widor speaks to us in his late organ symphonies. Albert Schweitzer described them (1906) as “transitional works. They are designed for the organ and yet boldly orchestral in their conception. At the same time, however, the austere element increasingly comes into the foreground, the austere element that then led Widor back to sacred art in his last two symphonies [Nos. 9 and 10].” Here the Protestant Schweitzer meant the Catholic Widor’s ultimate return to liturgical sources, in particular to Gregorian chant.