Watch Joseph Nolan below in this complete performance of Widors 5th Organ Symphony taken from our DVD recorded at Selby Abbey. If you view the videos you will by the end understand why Joseph has been awarded the Medal of Chevalier des Artes for services to French music. Gramophone Magazine said this about his recent Widor release – ‘’amazingly precise fingerwork, total mastery of the score and utter authority’’.
Widor a significant contributor to Organ Music
Charles-Marie Jean Albert Widor (1844 – 1937) was a French organist, composer and teacher. He was born in Lyon, to a family of organ builders, and initially studied music there. In 1863 he moved to Brussels to study organ technique with Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens and composition with François-Joseph Fétis. After this term of study Widor moved to Paris, where he lived for the rest of his life.
Widor wrote music for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles and composed four operas and a ballet. He is probably most notable for his works for the organ which include – ten Organ Symphonies, three Symphonies for orchestra with organ, Suite Latine, Trois Nouvelles Pièces, and six arrangements of works by Bach. Many would say that the ten organ symphonies are his most significant contribution to the organ repertoire.
Symphony for Organ No 5
The most famous of the ten organ symphonies is Symphony for Organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, No. 1. This was composed by Widor in 1879, with numerous revisions published by the composer in later years. The full symphony lasts for about 35 minutes.
The Symphony for Organ No. 5 consists of five movements. The fifth movement, is often referred to as just Widor’s Toccata because it is his most famous piece. It lasts around six minutes. Its fame in part comes from its frequent use as recessional music at festive Christmas and wedding ceremonies.
1. Allegro vivace
The first movement of the 5th Symphony is a set of variations on a theme in F minor, which starts gently and has a number of points with dramatic dynamic contrast. It’s a hard movement to play well, but Nolan’s fingers dance over the keys in this masterful interpretation.
2. Allegro cantabile
In the pastoral second movement we have a delightful duet between a melody on an oboe that sounds on the top manual and a flute on the middle manual. That relationship between the manuals enables the difficult occasional thumbing down for a staccato counter-melody on the flute.
3. Andantino quasi allegretto
The third movement, which centres around the relative major key of A flat, is underpinned by a repeating pedal pattern that crops up in various shapes and forms. The music moves towards a C major anchor for a stormier and more chromatic middle section, before returning to the original theme and an A flat major conclusion.
We’re in C major again for the beautiful fourth movement, a gentle affair on the strings and celestes, one of Widor’s favourite combinations. The melody here is solo’ed out on a four foot flute in the pedals.
The famous fifth movement Toccata in F major needs little introduction. A favourite for weddings, royal and otherwise, this finishes the 5th Symphony with a blaze of glory. Nolan’s virtuosity and rock-steady tempo take us to the mighty conclusion.
Regent Classic Organs
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I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Regent Classic Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.