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Charles-Marie Widor

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Charles-Marie Jean Albert Widor (1844–1937) was a French organist, composer, and teacher.

Widor was born on 24th February 1844 in Lyon to a family of organ-builders, and initially studied music there with his father, who was an organist himself. 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, with Jacques Lemmens for organ technique and with François-Joseph Fétis, director of the Brussels Conservatoire for composition.

In 1870, with the combined lobbying of Cavaillé-Coll, Charles Gounod and Camille Saint-Saëns, the 24-year-old Widor was appointed as 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. Widor remained as organist at St Sulpice for 64 years until the end of 1933. He was succeeded in 1934 by his former student Marcel Dupré. Meanwhile, in 1890 he succeeded César Franck as organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire, where he also became composition professor in 1896.

Widor’s best-known single piece for the organ is the final movement, Toccata, from his Symphony for Organ no 5, which is often played as a recessional at wedding ceremonies and even at the close of the Christmas Midnight Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica.

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