Magazine article The Tracker

Widor, A Life beyond the Toccata

Magazine article The Tracker

Widor, A Life beyond the Toccata

Article excerpt

Widor, A Life Beyond the Toccata. John R. Near. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 20II. xxii, 588 pp. ISBN 97815814636910. Available from www.ohscatalog.org, $85. "It is impossible to judge the work of an artist without first carefully inquiring about the ideals, tendencies, and spiritual conditions of the generation immediately preceding that of the artist in question." - Charles-Marie Widor. A century later, John Near evokes and applies that same wise principle to study its author. The consummate artist, the refined composer, and the proverbial intellectual are all revealed to us in John Near's Widor: A Life Beyond the Toccata.

Born while Felix Mendelssohn still walked the earth, acquainted with Franz Liszt, and dead 25 years after the premiere of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire and a month after Philip Glass's birth, Widor enjoyed a long and active career spanning 80 years. Omnipotent sorcerer at the Saint-Sulpice organ for 64 years, the darling of the Parisian élite, personal friend of European nobility, a man of culture, erudite conversationalist beloved by the crème de la crème, international ambassador of the arts, Widor held every honour in France and numerous official distinctions abroad, knew every prominent musician in Paris and elsewhere, wrote extensive academically-respected articles, books, and papers, and composed a tremendous wealth of works.

Henry Eymieu wrote, "Ch.-M. Widor creates art for the sake of art, without guilty concessions to the public; he is not attached to any school or group; he is himself, and that is the highest praise for an artist." But the true artist's contentment comes at a price: years before his death Widor's oeuvre went down the road to oblivion. Recklessly criticized for being out of step with modern taste, his restrained style, at times severely classical and always musically well-behaved, no longer spoke to an audience who saw less and less in the arts the divine road to harmony. No one spoke of his music composed for the ballet La Korrigane, performed 138 times at the Paris Opera, nor of his late chamber music (opuses 66, 68, 69 and 70), veritable masterpieces in the genre. His Suite Latine, Op. 86, and Trois Nouvelles Pièces, Op. 87, so subtle in their introspectiveness and quiet radiance, were regarded as offensively old fashioned, whereas his Symphonie Romane, Op. …

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