Charles-Marie Widor

Symphony for organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42/1

    Description by Blair Johnston

    In terms of tonal architecture, Charles-Marie Widor began his second set of organ symphonies, the four works of Op. 42, published in or around 1880, precisely where he left off with the previous set. The keynotes of the four organ symphonies of that first set (Op. 13) are C-D-E-F, and the Symphony No. 5 for organ, Op. 42, No. 1, is set in the same key as the last of those symphonies: F minor (and, significantly, the four works of Op. 42 outline a keynote scheme parallel to that of Op. 13: F-G-A-B). In the Symphony No. 5, which today may be the most frequently played of Widor's organ symphonies (and certainly contains his most famous movement), we can hear the composer beginning to explore, tentatively and just a little bit at a time, a more chromatically-involved musical palette than he allowed himself in Op. 13.

    The Organ Symphony No. 5 is in five movements, making it the most compact -- in terms of movement-total, not duration or musical language -- organ symphony yet. Compared to the slim, quasi-improvisatory Toccata that opens the Symphony No. 4 in F minor, the opening Allegro vivo of the Symphony No. 5 is a massive, solidly built movement whose arch-shaped main idea is put through many changes of timbre and character, including a scherzando central episode, over the course of 15 pages of music. With the next movement, the somewhat unusual layout of the Symphony makes itself plain: two quick movements and then two slower movements and a finale. If the goal is to find a traditional symphonic layout in the work, the Allegro cantabile second movement can be considered a kind of scherzo, and the two slower movements, Andantino quasi allegretto and Adagio, might be thought of as a kind of conglomerate slow movement. The energetic Toccata that ends the Symphony, with its repeating, ever-modulating subject, is easily Widor's most famous piece. It is often performed by church organists as a stand-alone composition.


    1. Allegro vivace
    2. Allegro cantabile
    3. Andantino quasi allegretto
    4. Adagio
    5. Toccata. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2016 Alto MCS 1292
    2015 Raven / Raven Records OAR 965
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon 02894791926
    2012 Signum Classics SIGCD 292
    2012 Rondeau ROP 6063
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 795870
    2007 Gallo 901
    2007 ATMA Classique 2370
    2007 Skarbo 1051
    2006 Universal
    2005 Apex 4622972
    2004 Hyperion CDH55144
    2003 Cypres 1631
    2003 Pro Organo 7153
    2001 Rene Gailly 87173
    1999 Christophorus 0099
    1999 Danacord 444
    1999 Gothic Records 49108
    1996 Haenssler 98103
    1996 Amphion 139
    1996 ASV 958
    1995 MDG 3160403
    1995 Motette 11141
    1994 Chandos 9271
    1994 Novalis 150105
    1993 Simax 1073
    1987 Hyperion CDA66181
    1984 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4134382
    Fugatto 3
    Jan Kraybill
    BBC Music 291
    Guild GMCD7305
    Gothic Records 49046
    Philips 410054
    Saga Classics 3363