Monday, March 17, 2014

Widor - Piano Concerto No. 1 In F Minor

If someone has heard any music by Charles-Marie Widor (1844 - 1937) it is most likely the Toccata from his Symphony For Solo Organ No.5.  That Widor would be well known for an organ piece is understandable as he came from a family of organ builders and players, and was an organist himself at Saint-Sulpice Catholic Church (the top appointment for a French organist) in Paris for 64 years.  He was a strong influence in the French revival of organ playing and taught organ and composition at the Paris conservatory.

But Widor was also a master of orchestration and wrote a treatise on the subject. Besides the ten symphonies for solo organ, he composed many piano pieces, chamber works, operas and orchestral works. Widor composed the Piano Concerto in F Minor, Opus 39 in 1876. The premiere was in November 1876 with Louis Diémer as soloist. Le Ménestrela French music journal, printed the following review about the concerto:

Louis Diémer
"The concerto for piano and orchestra by M. Widor is a very remarkable work. Perhaps the young and already wise organist of Saint-Sulpice has yielded a little to the inclination of the most recent school of composers to favour form over substance, but there are some beautiful harmonic effects and interesting development of ideas. The finale is the best of the three movements, I think—despite all the success of the Andante—based on a motif that is very lively and forthright with rather the appeal of a scherzo. Thanks to his playing, so precise and so firm, M. Diémer … made the most persuasive case for the concerto."`

The concerto is in three movements:
I. Allegro con fuoco -  The piano opens the first movement and is in the forefront until the second theme is announced by piano and orchestra. These two ideas are explored and expanded upon for the entire movement. The first theme builds to a climax in the coda, and the movement ends.

II. Andante religioso - Woodwinds make the first statement of a theme, the piano enters playing chords that will eventually evolve to another theme, but not before the first theme is restated by the strings. These two kernels are developed by piano and orchestra. There are beautiful passages for the piano playing arpeggios over a quiet accompaniment by the lower strings. Later in the movement the piano plays high in the treble with the strings, giving an impression of Widor's instruction of religioso.  The movement ends with the piano playing chords over a gentle accompaniment.

III. Finale: Allegro - Widor begins the finale with loud C octaves in both hands and the music has the feel of a scherzo:


 The rhythmic scherzo takes up much of the finale until a cadenza for soloist appears that makes a passing reference to some of the other themes heard earlier. The music shifts to F major and the concerto ends.

Widor was not only a master of organ compositions. He was also a first-rate orchestrator, so much so that he wrote a treatise on the subject. This concerto shows his mastery of the orchestra as well as the piano.

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