Thematic and Stylistic Devices in Widor's Symphonie romane, Op. 73

Joby Bell

Tuesday, June 21, 10 AM

An overview of Widor’s pervasive use of chant melody in the Symphonie romane. We will explore Widor’s approach in repeating a given theme in toto, rather than in developing it outright. We will observe his use of rhythmic and metrical framing of melody to keep the plainsong’s supple “vocalization ... as elusive as a bird’s song.” We will see how such “strict” treatment to keep a melody “free” allowed Widor to widen his harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary, which can now be traced forward into the acute chromaticism of Vierne. We will also briefly note two allusions in the first and second movements to Wagner’s “Tristan chord” and the “Isolde motive.”

Finally, we will note a few prototypical keyboard figurations and textures in the Symphonie romane that found a place in the stylistic language of later composers. These will include stylistic developments such as 1) contrapuntal double pedaling in the second movement, which later appeared very similarly in Vierne’s Clair de lune; 2)increased post-Franck symphonic texture during registrational buildup in the outer movements, which re-appeared in all of Vierne’s Symphonies, many works of Dupré, and the larger works of Duruflé, including the organ solo version of his Requiem; and 3) slow-movement textures that were replicated in Vierne Symphonies.

Joby Bell serves on the faculty of the Hayes School of Music, Appalachian State University, where he teaches organ and church music studies. His teaching specializes in practice techniques, memorization, service playing, choral accompanying, and maintaining grace under pressure – a lesson he maintains is always best taught by example. His acclaimed blog at deals with a comprehensive range of organ-related topics including teaching philosophies, recital preparation, church music, and professional concerns. In 2000 he garnered Second Prize and the Audience Prize in the American Guild of Organists National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance. He earned degrees in organ performance at Appalachian State University and Rice University. His teachers include H. Max Smith and Clyde Holloway. His church posts have included St. John the Divine (Houston), St. Philip Presbyterian (Houston), First Presbyterian (Houston), and First Presbyterian (Lenoir, N.C.).