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Toccata from Organ Symphony No.5 in F Minor Op.42/1

Charles-Marie Widor: Organ Symphony No.5 in F Op.42 No.1

Professor - first of Organ, and later of Composition - at the Conservatoire, Organist of the church of Saint-Sulpice, Perpetual Secretary of the Académie des Beaux-Arts - Charles-Marie Widor enjoyed an enormously successful and influential musical career in Paris for nearly seventy years, and when he died at the age of 93 he was very much the Grand Old Man of French music. He is now remembered almost exclusively as an organ composer, but in his own time it was other music that attracted most attention, particularly his songs, chamber music and ballets. The Fifth Organ Symphony was composed around 1879, and the successful ballet composer is strongly in evidence in the mellifluous melodies and lightly dancing rhythms of its opening movements. But in the last two movements, which are recorded here, it is Widor the master organist who comes to the fore.

The short Adagio in C major actually forms an indispensable prelude to the ever-popular Toccata, as they are both based on the same theme. This Adagio is a lyrical, meditative piece of five-part counterpoint, with four voices on Voix Celeste and one on a 4-foot pedal flute - probably the first 19th century example of this unconventional registration; towards the end the texture is enriched by the addition of a second pedal part. The final Toccata, (a popular favourite of bridal couples as they leave the church after their ceremony,) then bursts in like a clap of thunder. In its brilliantly effective combination of rapid staccato figuration on the manuals with a majestic legato tune in the pedals, this piece set the pattern for innumerable other French organ toccatas in succeeding years. Despite its enormous popularity, it only makes its proper effect when the precise staccato fingerwork which the composer specifies is maintained right up to the last bar - with a distinct attack and release for each needle-point staccato note, this makes a total of nearly five thousand separate finger movements in the space of a few minutes!

David Gammie

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