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Widor: A Life beyond the Toccata

John R. Near
Volume: 83
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 616
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    ‘Widor: A Life beyond the Toccata’ brings to light the life and work of one of France's most distinguished musicians in the most complete biography in any language of Charles-Marie Widor. He is considered one of the greatest organists of his time, a prolific composer in nearly every genre, professor of organ and composition at the Paris Conservatory, academician and administrator at the Institute of France, journalist, conductor, music editor, scholar, correspondent, inspired visionary, and man of deep culture. An appendix constitutes the most complete listing ever compiled of Widor's oeuvre. Each work is dated as accurately as possible and includes the publisher, plate number, dedicatee, and relevant commentary. Another appendix lists Widor's complete published writings, other than the scores of press reviews he penned over several decades. ‘Widor: A Life beyond the Toccata’ illuminates the life and work of one of France's most distinguished yet neglected musicians of the belle époque. John Near is William Martin and Mina Merrill Prindle Professor of Fine Arts and college organist at Principia College.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-780-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Kurt Lueders

    Gradually over the decades and with the advent of massive potential for publication and unlimited conveying of material over the internet, access to the remotest corners of artistic endeavor from the past has become ever readier. However, it seems that appreciation of the riches thus opened up is not correspondingly disseminated across a broad spectrum of receivers: increased supply does not automatically enhance demand, while curiosity and discovery, to the extent they require initiative and discernment, have not necessarily benefited in effective proportion to the wonders of the new technologies and channels of communication.

    Charles-Marie Widor provides, within the confines...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
    John R. Near
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  7. Introduction: “Sunday Morning in a Paris Organ Loft”
    (pp. 1-2)
    T. Carl Whitmer

    Like a king’s box at the royal opera: private, desirable, magnetic. Our king plays both the host and the organ—equally skillfully; for, since admirers come (on invitation only), it is essential to possess both social and digital technic.

    In short, we come to the Mass and go from a reception. This reception is punctuated not by drinks, but by music, very largely Gregorian responses to the phrases sung by the choir at the opposite end of the church; also Bach, followed by original pyrotechnics.

    Widor—it is his reception at St. Sulpice to which I refer—chats in the...

  8. Part One Widor’s Ancestry, Musical Education, and Heritage (1844–63)
    (pp. 3-26)

    At the ripe age of ninety, Charles-Marie Widor was asked how he had chosen the profession in which he had become one of the most honored musicians in the world. “My vocation? It’s quite simple. I was born in an organ pipe.”¹ Truly, vocational atavism stood out in the Widor family, as at least two generations had been involved in the organ-building trade.

    While the exact roots of the Widor ancestry remain uncertain, it is thought that “Vietor” may have been the original spelling of their surname. Legend has it that Widor’s great-grandfather, Jean Widor (d. 1777), a stonecutter, emigrated...

  9. Part Two The First Creative Period (1864–79)
    (pp. 27-148)

    The organ of Saint-Sulpice, completed in 1862, was the largest instrument ever built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll; it had to have the sonic resources to command a space capable of holding ten thousand people—a space second in size only to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Having five manuals, one hundred speaking stops distributed over seven levels, and requiring several strong men to pump the bellows, it was a technical and tonal marvel.¹ The builder had expended over three times the amount of the contract to produce his magnum opus.²

    Cavaillé-Coll was always deeply concerned—perhaps never more so than at Saint-Sulpice—...

  10. Part Three The Years of Mastery (1880–94)
    (pp. 149-225)

    The two principal works of 1880 hurled Widor into the limelight of almost universal musical renown—the first work by dint of the arrant reaction that it drew from both critics and concert-going public alike, and the second work, in total contrast, by the manner in which it utterly captured their imaginations.

    Hector Berlioz (1803–69) cut the way for programmatic revelry with his revolutionary Symphonie fantastique of 1830. Departing from his classical leanings, Widor continued down the same path when in 1880 he took part of Goethe’s Faust epic as the literary basis for his vividly programmatic symphonic poem...

  11. Part Four The Twilight of Widor’s Compositional Career (1895–1909)
    (pp. 226-292)

    As a result of numerous demanding engagements, the pace of Widor’s compositional productivity necessarily lessened, and that trend continued ever more markedly with each passing year. He had barely passed the midpoint of his life’s journey, yet in the remaining forty-two years he would compose only about two dozen more major works. 1895 marks the beginning of Widor’s third and last creative period, as in that year he published his latest organ symphony, the Symphonie gothique, Op. 70. With this work, a new style and ideal in organ music was ushered in—one that turned to Gregorian plainsong and thereby...

  12. Part Five Mr. Widor, Member of the Institute of France (1910–37)
    (pp. 293-402)

    One of architect Louis Le Vau’s masterpieces, the seventeenth-century former Mazarin Palace (Quai de Conti), with its distinctive cupola flanked by two square pavilions designed to harmonize with the Louvre on the other side of the Seine, was given over to the Institute of France in 1805. The most prestigious of French organizations, the Institute devotes itself to perfecting and protecting French arts and sciences. Five academies, the earliest founded in 1635 by Richelieu, comprise the illustrious body of the Institute: Académie française (French Academy), Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (Academy of Inscriptions and Literature), Académie des sciences (Academy of...

  13. Appendix 1 Published Literary Works
    (pp. 403-407)
  14. Appendix 2 List of Musical Works
    (pp. 408-454)
  15. Appendix 3 A Cross-Section of Musicians during Widor’s Life
    (pp. 455-455)
  16. Appendix 4 Chronology
    (pp. 456-464)
  17. Abbreviations
    (pp. 465-466)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 467-560)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 561-572)
  20. Index
    (pp. 573-588)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 589-591)