kids encyclopedia robot

Charles-Marie Widor facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Charles-Marie Widor
Charles-Marie Widor (2).jpg
Widor, c. 1900
Charles-Marie-Jean-Albert Widor

(1844-02-21)21 February 1844
Lyon, France
Died 12 March 1937(1937-03-12) (aged 93)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Occupation composer, organist

Charles-Marie-Jean-Albert Widor (21 February 1844 – 12 March 1937) was a French organist, composer and teacher of the mid-Romantic era, most notable for his ten organ symphonies. His Toccata from the fifth organ symphony has become one of the best known and most often performed works for organ.

As of 2022, he is the longest-serving organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, a role he held for 63 years (January 1870 – 31 December 1933). He also was organ professor at the Paris Conservatory from 1890 to 1896 (following César Franck) and then he became professor of composition at the same institution, following Théodore Dubois.

Widor was a prolific composer, writing music for organ, piano, voice and ensembles. Apart from his ten organ symphonies, he also wrote three symphonies for orchestra and organ, several songs for piano and voice, four operas and a ballet. He was one of the first composers to use the term "symphony" for some of his organ compositions, helped in this by the organs built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.


Widor as a young organist at Saint-Sulpice, Paris, c. 1870

Widor was born in Lyon to a family of organ builders, and initially studied music there with his father, Hungarian-born François-Charles Widor titular organist of Saint-François-de-Sales from 1838 to 1889. His mother was Françoise-Elisabeth Peiron. The French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, reviver of the art of organ building, was a friend of the Widor family; he arranged for the talented young organist to study in Brussels in 1863 with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens for organ technique and with the elderly François-Joseph Fétis, director of the Brussels Conservatoire, for composition. After this term of study, Widor moved to Paris where he resided for the rest of his life. At the age of 24, he was appointed assistant to Camille Saint-Saëns at Église de la Madeleine.

Paris 06 - St Sulpice organ 01
The great Cavaillé-Coll organ at Saint-Sulpice, Paris

In January 1870, with the combined lobbying of Cavaillé-Coll, Saint-Saëns, and Charles Gounod, the 25-year-old Widor was appointed as "provisional" organist of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, the most prominent position for a French organist. The organ at St-Sulpice was Cavaillé-Coll's masterwork; the instrument's spectacular capabilities proved an inspiration to Widor. Despite his job's ostensibly "provisional" nature, Widor remained as organist at St-Sulpice for nearly 64 years until the end of 1933. He was succeeded in 1934 by his former student and assistant, Marcel Dupré.

In 1890, upon the death of César Franck, Widor succeeded him as organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The class he inherited was initially stunned by this new teacher, who suddenly demanded a formidable technique and a knowledge of J. S. Bach's organ works as prerequisites to effective improvisation. Later (1896), he gave up this post to become composition professor at the same institution. Widor had several students in Paris who were to become famous composers and organists in their own right, most notably the aforementioned Dupré, Louis Vierne, Charles Tournemire, Darius Milhaud, Alexander Schreiner, Edgard Varèse, and the Canadian Henri Gagnon. Albert Schweitzer also studied with Widor, mainly from 1899; master and pupil later collaborated on an annotated edition of J. S. Bach's organ works published in 1912 – 1914. Widor, whose own master Lemmens was an important Bach exponent, encouraged Schweitzer's theological exploration of Bach's music.

Among the leading organ recitalists of his time, Widor visited many different nations in this capacity, including Russia, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. In addition, he participated in the inaugural concerts of many of Cavaillé-Coll's greatest instruments, notably Notre-Dame de Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Près, the Trocadéro and Saint-Ouen de Rouen.

Well known as a man of great culture and learning, Widor was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1892, and reached the rank of a Grand-Officier de la Légion d'honneur in 1933. He was named to the Institut de France in 1910, and was elected "Secrétaire perpetuel" (permanent secretary) of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1914, succeeding Henry Roujon.

In 1921, Widor founded the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau with Francis-Louis Casadesus. He was the director until 1934, when he was succeeded by Maurice Ravel. His close friend, Isidor Philipp gave piano lessons there, and Nadia Boulanger taught an entire generation of new composers.

At the age of 76, Widor married Mathilde de Montesquiou-Fézensac on 26 April 1920 at Charchigné. The 36-year-old Mathilde was a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families of Europe. They had no children; she died in 1960.

On 31 December 1933, at age 89, Widor retired from his position at Saint-Sulpice. Three years later, he suffered a stroke which paralysed the right side of his body, although he remained mentally alert to the last. He died at his home in Paris on 12 March 1937 at the age of 93, and his remains were interred in the crypt of Saint-Sulpice four days later. His tomb bears an incorrect birth year (1845).

Organ symphonies

Widor wrote music for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles (some of his songs for voice and piano are especially notable) and composed four operas and a ballet, but only his works for organ are played with any regularity today. These include: ten organ symphonies, three symphonies for orchestra with organ, Suite Latine, Trois Nouvelles Pièces, and six arrangements of works by Bach under the title Bach's Memento (1925). The organ symphonies are his most significant contribution to the organ repertoire.

It is unusual for a work written for one instrument to be assigned the term "symphony". However, Widor was at the forefront of a revival in French organ music, which utilized a new organ design pioneered by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll that was "symphonic" in style. The organ of the Baroque and Classical periods was designed to project a clear and crisp sound capable of handling contrapuntal writing. Cavaillé-Coll's organs, on the other hand, had a much warmer sound and a vast array of stops that extended the timbre of the instrument. This new style of organ, with a truly orchestral range of voicing and unprecedented abilities for smooth crescendos and diminuendos, encouraged composers to write music that was fully symphonic in scope. This trend was not limited to France, and was reflected in Germany by the organs built by Eberhard Friedrich Walcker and the works of Franz Liszt, Julius Reubke, and Max Reger.

Widor's symphonies can be divided into three groups. The first four symphonies comprise Op. 13 (1872) and are more properly termed "suites". (Widor himself called them "collections".) They represent Widor's early style. Widor made later revisions to the earlier symphonies. Some of these revisions were quite extensive.

With the Opus 42 symphonies, Widor shows his mastery and refinement of contrapuntal technique, while exploring to the fullest the capabilities of the Cavaillé-Coll organs for which these works were written. The Fifth Symphony has five movements, the last of which is the famous Toccata. The Sixth Symphony is also famous for its opening movement Allegro. The Seventh and Eighth Symphonies are the longest and least performed of Widor's Symphonies. The Seventh Symphony contains six movements, and the first version of the Eighth Symphony had seven. (Widor subsequently removed the Prélude for the 1901 edition.)

The ninth and tenth symphonies, respectively termed "Gothique" (Op. 70, of 1895) and "Romane" (Op. 73, of 1900), are much more introspective. They both derive thematic material from plainchant: Symphonie Gothique uses the Christmas Day Introit "Puer natus est" in the third and fourth movements, while the Symphonie Romane has the Easter Gradual "Haec dies" woven throughout all four movements. They also honored, respectively, the Gothic Church of St. Ouen, Rouen and the Romanesque Basilica of St. Sernin, Toulouse, with the new Cavaillé-Coll organs installed in each. The second movement of the Symphonie Gothique, entitled "Andante sostenuto", is one of Widor's most-beloved pieces. Dating from this same period, and also based on a plainsong theme, is the "Salve Regina" movement, a late addition to the much earlier second symphony.

Widor's best-known piece for the organ is the final movement of his Symphony for Organ No. 5, a toccata, which is often played as a recessional at wedding ceremonies and at the close of the Christmas Midnight Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. Although the Fourth Symphony also opens with a Toccata, it is in a dramatically different (and earlier) style. The Toccata from Symphony No. 5 is the first of the toccatas characteristic of French Romantic organ music, and served as a model for later works by Gigout, Boëllmann, Mulet, Vierne and Dupré. Widor was pleased with the worldwide renown this single piece afforded him, but he was unhappy with how fast many other organists played it. Widor himself always played the Toccata rather deliberately. Many organists play it at a very fast tempo whereas Widor preferred a more controlled articulation to be involved. He recorded the piece, at St. Sulpice in his eighty-ninth year; the tempo used for the Toccata is quite slow. Isidor Philipp transcribed the Toccata for two pianos.

Over his long career, Widor returned again and again to edit his earlier music, even after publication. His biographer, John Near, reports: "Ultimately, it was discovered that over a period of about sixty years, as many as eight different editions were issued for some of the symphonies."


Rough dates of composition/publication are in brackets, along with the original publisher, if known.

Orchestral works

Composition Year Publisher Instruments
Ouverture portugaise 1865 Crescendo Music Publications organ, wind ensemble and orchestra
Symphony No. 1, Op. 16 1870 Auguste Durand orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 39 1876 Julien Hamelle piano and orchestra
Violin Concerto 1877 ??? violin and orchestra
Cello Concerto, Op. 41 1882 Julien Hamelle cello and orchestra
Symphonie pour orgue et orchestre, Op. 42 1882 repr. A-R Editions organ and orchestra (arr. by Widor of movements from Op. 42)
Chant séculaire, Op. 49 1881 Julien Hamelle soprano solo, chorus and orchestra
Symphony No. 2, Op. 54 1882 Heugel orchestra
La Nuit de Walpurgis, Op. 60 1887 Julien Hamelle chorus and orchestra
Fantaisie, Op. 62 1889 Auguste Durand piano and orchestra
Suite, from Conte d'avril, Op. 64 1892 Heugel orchestra
Symphony No. 3, Op. 69 1894 Schott organ and orchestra
Choral et variations, Op. 74 1900 Éditions Alphonse Leduc harp and orchestra
Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 77 1906 Heugel piano and orchestra
Sinfonia sacra, Op. 81 1908 Otto Junne organ and orchestra
Symphonie antique, Op. 83 1911 Heugel soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra
Ouverture espagnole 1897 Heugel orchestra

Organ solo

Composition Year Publisher
Symphonie pour orgue No. 1, Op. 13 No. 1
  1. Prélude
  2. Allegretto
  3. Adagio
  4. Intermezzo
  5. Marche pontificale (revised 1887)
  6. Méditation (revised 1887)
  7. Final
1872 (revised 1887, 1901 and 1918) Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 2, Op. 13 No. 2
  1. præludium circulare
  2. Pastorale
  3. Andante
  4. Scherzo (version 1872 La Chasse – revision 1901 Salve Regina)
  5. Adagio
  6. Final
1872 (revised 1901) Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 3, Op. 13 No. 3
  1. Prélude
  2. Minuetto
  3. Marcia
  4. Adagio
  5. Final (the 1872 version has a Fugue instead of the Final)
1872 (revised 1887, 1901 and 1918) Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 4, Op. 13 No. 4
  1. Toccata
  2. Fugue
  3. Andante cantabile
  4. Scherzo
  5. Adagio
  6. Final
1872 (revised 1887, 1901 and 1920) Julien Hamelle
Marche américaine (transc. by Marcel Dupré: No. 11 from 12 Feuillets d'album, Op. 31 ??? Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 5, Op. 42 No. 1
  1. Allegro vivace
  2. Allegro cantabile
  3. Andantino quasi allegretto
  4. Adagio
  5. Toccata
1879 (revised 1901 and 1918) Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 6, Op. 42 No. 2
  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Intermezzo
  4. Cantabile
  5. Final
1879 Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 7, Op. 42 No. 3
  1. Moderato
  2. Choral
  3. Andante
  4. Allegro ma non troppo
  5. Lento
  6. Final
1887 (revised 1900-1 and 1918) Julien Hamelle
Symphonie pour orgue No. 8, Op. 42 No. 4
  1. Allegro risoluto
  2. Moderato cantabile
  3. Allegro
  4. Prélude (later removed)
  5. Variations
  6. Adagio
  7. Final
1887 Julien Hamelle
Marche nuptiale, Op. 64 (1892) (transc., from Conte d'avril, Schott) 1892 ???
Symphonie gothique pour orgue [No. 9], Op. 70
  1. Moderato
  2. Andante sostenuto
  3. Allegro
  4. Moderato (Final)
1895 Schott
Symphonie romane pour orgue [No. 10], Op. 73
  1. Moderato
  2. Choral
  3. Cantilène
  4. Final
1900 Julien Hamelle
Bach's memento 1925 Julien Hamelle
Suite latine, Op. 86 1927 Auguste Durand
Trois Nouvelles pièces, Op. 87 1934 Auguste Durand

Chamber work

Composition Year Publisher Instruments
6 duos, Op. 3 1867 Regnier-Canaux/Renaud/Pérégally & Parvy/Schott piano and harmonium
Piano Quintet No. 1, Op. 7 1868 Julien Hamelle piano
Sérénade, Op. 10 1870 Julien Hamelle flute, violin, cello, piano and harmonium
Piano Trio, Op. 19 1875 Julien Hamelle piano
3 Pièces, Op. 21 1875 Julien Hamelle cello and piano
Suite, Op. 34 1877; 1898 Julien Hamelle (1870) Heugel (1898) flute and piano
Romance, Op. 46 ??? ??? violin and piano
Sonate No. 1, Op. 50 1881 Julien Hamelle violin and piano
Soirs d'Alsace (4 Duos), Op. 52 1881 Julien Hamelle violin, cello and piano
Cavatine, Op. 57 1887 Julien Hamelle violin and piano
Piano Quartet, Op. 66 1891 Auguste Durand piano
Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 68 1894 Auguste Durand piano
Introduction et rondo, Op. 72 1898 Éditions Alphonse Leduc clarinet and piano
Suite, Op. 76 1903 Julien Hamelle violin and piano
Sonate, Op. 79 1906 Heugel violin and piano
Sonate, Op. 80 1907 Heugel cello and piano
Salvum fac populum tuum, Op. 84 1916 Heugel 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, drum and organ
4 Pièces 1890 ??? violin, cello and piano
3 Pièces 1891 ??? oboe and piano
Suite 1912 ??? cello and piano
Suite florentine 1920 ??? violin and piano

(Salvum fac populum tuum Op. 84 is also known in english as "Lord, Save Thy People")

Piano solo

Composition Year Publisher
Variations de concert sur un thème original, Op. 1 1867 Heugel
Sérénade, Op. 3 No. 4 (arr. Leistner) ??? Julien Hamelle
Airs de ballet, Op. 4 1868 Julien Hamelle
Scherzo-valse, Op. 5 1868 Julien Hamelle
La Barque (Fantaisie italienne), Op. 6 1877 Auguste Durand
Le Corricolo (Fantaisie italienne), Op. 6 1877 Auguste Durand
Caprice, Op. 9 1868 Julien Hamelle
3 Valses, Op. 11 1871 Julien Hamelle
Impromptu, Op. 12 1871 Julien Hamelle
6 Morceaux de salon, Op. 15 1872 Julien Hamelle
Prélude, andante et final, Op. 17 1874 Julien Hamelle
Scènes de bal, Op. 20 1875 Julien Hamelle
6 Valses caractéristiques, Op. 26 1877 Julien Hamelle
Variations sur un thème original, Op. 29 (revision of op. 1) 1877 Julien Hamelle
12 Feuillets d'album, Op. 31 1877 Julien Hamelle
5 Valses, Op. 33 ??? Julien Hamelle
Dans les bois, Op. 44 1880 Julien Hamelle
Pages intimes, Op. 48 1879 Julien Hamelle
Suite polonaise, Op. 51 1881 Julien Hamelle
Suite, Op. 58 1887 Julien Hamelle
Carnaval, 12 pièces, Op. 61 1889 Julien Hamelle
Nocturne, from Contes d'avril, Op. 64 ??? ???
5 Valses, Op. 71 1894 Julien Hamelle
Suite écossaise, Op. 78 1905 Joseph Williams
Introduction ??? Julien Hamelle
Intermezzo ??? Julien Hamelle

Songs and choral works

Composition Year Publisher Instruments
O Salutaris, Op. 8 1868 Julien Hamelle contralto or baritone, violin, cello and organ
6 Mélodies, Op. 14 1872 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
Tantum ergo, Op. 18 No. 1 1874 Julien Hamelle baritone, chorus and organ
Regina coeli, Op. 18 No. 2 1874 Julien Hamelle baritone, chorus and organ
6 Mélodies, Op. 22 1875 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
Quam dilecta tabernacula tua, Op. 23 No. 1 1876 Julien Hamelle baritone, chorus and organ
Tu es Petrus, Op. 23 No. 2 1876 Julien Hamelle baritone, chorus and organ
Surrexit a mortuis (Sacerdos et pontifex), Op. 23 No. 3 1876 Julien Hamelle chorus and organ
Ave Maria, Op. 24 1877 Julien Hamelle mezzo, harp and organ
3 Choruses, Op. 25 1876 Julien Hamelle SATB choir
3 Mélodies, Op. 28 1876 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
2 Duos, Op. 30 1876 Julien Hamelle soprano, contralto and piano
3 Mélodies italiennes, Op. 32 1877 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
3 Mélodies italiennes, Op. 35 1878 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
Messe, Op. 36 1878 Julien Hamelle baritone chorus, SATB chorus and two organs
6 Mélodies, Op. 37 1877 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
2 Duos, Op. 40 1876 Julien Hamelle soprano, contralto and piano
6 Mélodies, Op. 43 1878 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
6 Mélodies, Op. 47 1879 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
6 Mélodies, Op. 53 1881 Julien Hamelle voice and piano
Ave Maria, Op. 59 1884 Julien Hamelle voice, harp and organ
O salutaris, Op. 63[bis] 1889 Julien Hamelle voice, violin, cello and organ
Soirs d'été, Op. 63 1889 Auguste Durand voice and piano
Ecce Joanna, Alleluia! ??? Schola Cantorum SATB choir and organ
Psalm 112 1879 Julien Hamelle baritone, chorus, organ and orchestra
Chansons de mer, Op. 75 1902 ??? ???
Da pacem 1930 Auguste Durand SATB choir and organ or piano
Non credo 1930 Auguste Durand voice and piano

Stage music

Composition Year Publisher Stage Music Type
Le Capitaine Loys c. 1878 unpublished comic opera
La Korrigane 1880 Julien Hamelle ballet
Maître Ambros, Op. 56 1886 piano reduction published by Heugel opera
Conte d'avril, Op. 64 1885; 1891 Heugel incidental music
Les Pêcheurs de Saint-Jean 1895; 1904 Heugel opera
Nerto 1924 Heugel opera


  • Technique de l'orchestre moderne faisant suite au Traité d'instrumentation de H. Berlioz (1904, Paris: Lemoine)
  • L'Orgue moderne, la décadence dans la facture contemporaine (1928, Paris: Durand)
  • Vieilles Chansons pour les Petits Enfants: avec Accompagnements de Ch. M. Widor From the Collections at the Library of Congress


  • Complete organ works by Ben van Oosten
  • The 10 symphonies for organ, by Pierre Pincemaille, on 10 Cavaillé-Coll organs - Solstice SOCD 181-185.
  • 3rd, 6th et 10th symphonies for organ, performed by Marc Dubugnon at the Swiss Reformed Church of Saint Martin, in Vevey, the three symphonies on YouTube
Preceded by
Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély
Titular Organist, Saint Sulpice Paris
Succeeded by
Marcel Dupré

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Charles-Marie Widor para niños

kids search engine
Charles-Marie Widor Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.