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Playing Widor's 1. Symphonie in its first version from 1876 - by Wolfram Syré

2017-09-22 - Playing and Pieces

Widor created more than one new versions of his symphonies. For to say it directly: He composed against the Italian-opera inspirated French romnatic organ music. The technique of composition should have a very high level in his symphonies. The expression should be sensitive and in a way scandalous, but not only beautifull. This is a opinion which would have been called by Theodor W. Adorno "ressentiment composer". Unfortunatelly followed the late Gigout and the late Rosseau Widor's style. From this time the French symphonic organ music is until today no longer beautifull, but interesting and sophisticated.
Widor's first Symphonie is an impressive composition. But if you will compare it with other and perhaps older organ-symphonies like
César Franck: Grand Pièce Symphonique, Trois Chorales
Guilmant: Sonatas Nr. 1, 4, 5, 8
Salomé: Prèmier Sonate
Rousseau: Fantaisie
you will see, that these composers had much more experience in using a French romantic organ ant that they had a charming style of composition.
The first movement of Widor`s first symphonie is a Hommage à Bach like many opening numbers of the "Dix" or "Douze Pièces pour Orgue" published by the famous French romantic organ masters. Some of the other movements present quite new ideas. The Allegro is a lyric sonata form movement which became the root for Widor's later and larger movements in sonata form. The Intermezzo has the function of a Scherzo, but it is also Widor's earliest Toccata; here is the final which "disappears" very interesting and innovative. The Marche Pontificale is an interesting mixture of "Aeternitas vera" and salon-music. The final Fugue must have been a sensation and / or a shock in its time. We have on one side much features which remember to Bach and on the other side a fugue subject with eleven different notes (also nearly a twelf-notes-melodie), many dissonances and a virtuous use of the keys.
The newer versions of Widor's first symphonie make this piece more complicated and even less beautifull. The fine forme of the Allegro is not so clear as before because you find now some new interesting but strange ideas therein. I sad that the Intermezzo is a toccata with a "disappearing" final. This final is very genious. The new final destroys the logic and a the impression of the "disappearuíng" effect. The older final of the Marche Pontificale is more monumental and majestic. The 7th movement Finale becomes more and more a feature of a vituous final instead of a Fugue. Addtionally becomes this movement much more dissonant than before. The quotation of the subject from the first movement at the end of the newer versions of the Finale is an interesting detail.
In my opinion is the first version from 1876 of Widor's first symphonie an authentic piece. The later versions of this symphonie show us the skills of the older Widor, but they create a confusion meaning the authenticy of form, harmonies and expression.

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