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Charles-Marie Widor

Lyon 1844 - Paris 1937

Organist, Cavaillé-Coll organ in Saint-Sulpice (1870 - 1934)

Son of the organist at St.-François de Sales in Lyons, who was a descendent of organ builders from Alsace; a major figure in French music of the "Third Republic" although he is unjustly neglected today, perpetual secretary to the Academy of Fine Arts, and organist of the great organ of Saint-Sulpice from 1871 to 1934.

A member of the elite in organ music, Widor perhaps represents the most intensive pursuit of music appropriate to every stage of Cavaillé-Coll's sound, in all its grandiose developments, across the decades. In his works for the organ we see his preoccupation with creating the sweeping gesture, and he, more than Franck, was the creator of the symphony for organ.

Although he played at Saint-Sulpice for sixty-four years, and several of his compositions were based on liturgical themes, we won't find among his works a single "utilitarian" piece in the manner of Franck's "L'organiste", Guilmant's "L'Organiste Liturgiste" or Gigout's "L'Orgue à l'église". Even more than Saint-Saëns, whose work for organ is magnificent but sporadic and fundamentally classically inspired, Widor shows a constant preoccupation with pushing back the limits of the instrument. He didn't shrink from feats of technique - certainly always in the interest of convincing musical development - and took command of the symphonic tone colours and flexibility of Cavaillé-Coll's works to raise them to the same rank as the orchestral symphony.

Thus he was the sovereign player not only of a rich liturgy but also in a musical life whose richness has rarely been equalled. Widor repeated many times what he owed to Cavaillé-Coll both musically and in terms of his career. For, possession of the Saint-Sulpice great organ as a twenty-six year old provincial wasn't given to just anybody, even if Widor was no stranger to Paris musical life particularly the salons where his harmonium chamber music had earned him his first introductions. His disciple, Marcel Dupré, (1886-1971), perhaps the greatest organist of the XXth Century was to succeed him in 1934, so that the two musicians provided exactly a century of music in that organ loft. Is there any other place in the world as prestigious in the world of the organ? 

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