Orchestrations and Transformations: Guilmant, Widor, and the Emergence of Music for Organ and Orchestra in France



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This essay traces the emergence of music for organ and orchestra in France. Félix-Alexandre Guilmant and Charles-Marie Widor were the first two Frenchmen to compose and perform such works. Guilmant premiered his Symphonie pour orgue et orchestre, op. 42, in 1878. Widor’s Symphonie pour orgue et orchestre, op. 42(bis), was first performed in 1882. The musical material of neither of these symphonies was originally conceived for organ and orchestra. Rather than create new musical works, both composers opted to re-work existing compositions for solo organ. Guilmant’s first symphony is an orchestration of Sonata I in D Minor, op. 42, while Widor’s symphony is based on one movement of his Symphonie II and two movements from his Symphonie VI. In addition to tracing the development of the genre, this document examines primary instrumentation texts that originated in France during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. Biographical information about the composers is also included. The concluding section of this essay focuses on salient compositional strategies the two composers employed as they orchestrated and transformed their solo organ works into symphonies for organ and orchestra.



Guilmant, Widor, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, Orchestration