After championing the cause of secular organ music on the grandest of scales with his first eight organ symphonies, Charles-Marie Widor made a return to a more sacred composition with the Symphony No. 9 in C minor for organ, Op. 70 of 1895, the Symphonie gothique. The Symphonie gothique uses the plainsong melody Puer natus est as a base. It is fascinating to note that it is here, at the very point where Widor's decades-long progress in the direction of greater and more sophisticated chromaticism reaches its climax that he chose to reject, or at least modify, the secular organ symphony, while at the same time finally accepting the four-movement plan of a traditional orchestral symphony (each of the previous eight organ symphonies has at least five movements, and some have as many as seven).
If the legends are true, the Symphonie gothique was inspired by the Cathedral of St. Ouen in Rouen (the work is dedicated to St. Ouen, and it is from the style of the church's architecture that the work's title derives), and it may be on this account that the sacred element was added to the musical mix. Whatever the case, the work is every bit the foil to those early organ symphonies of Widor's.
As mentioned, the Symphonie gothique is in four movements: Moderato, Andante sostenuto, Allegro, and Moderato. The incessant running eighth notes of the opening movement provide immediate and unrelenting chromatic interest, upon and around which the fragmented main subject unfolds mysteriously. The entire opening movement is a kind of dramatic arch shape, moving from a quiet opening through a massive, triple-forte central climax (ah, the might of Widor's organ at St. Sulpice!) to a quiet C major close. The second and third movements are rightly called slow movement and scherzo, respectively. The finale Moderato is really only called thus as a kind of shorthand -- it is really better described as Moderato-Allegro-Moderato-Andante-Allegro.