Charles Widor – Toccata from Organ – Symphony No. 5
The Symphony for Organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, No. 1, was composed by Charles-Marie Widor in 1879, with numerous revisions published by the composer in later years. The full symphony lasts for about 35 minutes.
The fifth movement, in F major, is often referred to as just Widor’s Toccata because it is his most famous piece. It lasts around six minutes. Its fame in part comes from its frequent use as recessional music at festive Christmas and wedding ceremonies.
The melody of Widor’s Toccata is based upon an arrangement of rapid staccato arpeggios which form phrases, initially in F, moving in fifths through to C major, G major, etc. Each phrase consists of one bar. The melody is complemented by syncopated chords, forming an accented rhythm against the perpetual arpeggio motif. The phrases are contextualised by a descending bass line, often beginning with the 7th tone of each phrase key. For example, where the phrase consists of an arpeggio in C major, the bass line begins with a B-flat. The arpeggios eventually modulate through all twelve keys, until Widor brings the symphony to a close with fff block chords in the final three bars.
Following Widor’s example, other composers adopted this style of toccata as a popular genre in French Romantic organ music, including notable examples from Eugène Gigout, Léon Boëllmann, Louis Vierne, Henri Mulet, and Marcel Dupré.