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Charles-Marie Widor, Ten symphonies for organ, Volume III, containing the ninth Symphony ' Gothique' and the tenth Symphony `Romane' in a new addition revised and adapted by Luc Dupuis.

Editor Luc Dupuis has set about the enormous task of constructing an entirely new edition of the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor. His rationale for the urgent need to create this new edition is that, during the composer's lifetime, the ten symphonies were published in several editions between 1872 and 1929. He states that these editions included many revised and corrected versions, especially in the case of the early symphonies. He explains that his editorial process had to take this into account, especially because all of the original manuscript scripts with the exception of the Symphonie Romane have now been lost and, from his perspective, the original editions contained an enormous number of errors and inaccuracies, which leave the performer with a multitude of questions, and in many cases, travelling towards musical 'dead ends'. He also explained that at times Widor himself was not especially clear or thorough in his preparation of the manuscript.

Monsieur Dupuis's extended notes after Widor's own foreword are very well-considered and informative. He touches on a number of areas that are fundamentally important to understanding the performance not only of the music of Widor, but also French symphonic music more generally.

In particular, Dupuis talks about the concept of absolute legato, which was established by Lemmens and adopted by his disciple, Charles-Marie Widor. Dupuis argues that when one sees a slur in the earlier editions of the score (or a multitude of slurs), that it does not necessarily imply that one is to articulate after each of these phrases where there is a break in the slur. Rather, the understanding during Widor's time, he argues, was that these were rather more like expressive phrasings. Dupuis asserts that through the influence of the paradigm of the neoclassical movement, it is intrinsically difficult sometimes to reposition ourselves in the mindset of performance practice during the nineteenth century. As an example of primary importance, he asserts that the default setting for this music is long, legato phrases, and so, therefore, Dupuis has incorporated a new way of phrasing into his edition that reflects more adequately, the understood performance style during Widor's lifetime. There is a wealth of information about 'notes communes'; the fact that dynamic markings on the score are approximations of how open the swell box is rather than absolute dynamic levels; detailed information about registration correcting the erstwhile assumption that mixtures and cornets are not used in the Anches registrations in Widor's music and an explanation of the concept of the 'fusion of voices in unison.

Dupuis also decided that he would deviate from the musicological premises in other updated editions which, although they had made revisions and corrections, had still left a very large number of errors, and perhaps due to the concept of the 'sacredness' of the editorial process had not actually corrected many of the other problems to do with hand distribution, incorrect accidentals, registrational inconsistencies and other assorted musical conundrums.

Dupuis's new edition presents as an extremely practical, thoroughly approachable one for performers: a veritable elongated organ performance practise lesson in print. In addition to producing a new edition of this invaluable repertoire (and although correcting a plethora of typographical errors in the scores), Dupuis has further wisely decided that any commentary or alternative readings should all be left after the end of each symphony in the manner of editor's notes, so as not to overburden the score. This has the pleasing effect of creating a level of freedom for the performer to decide which way to go in a valid informed manner whilst possessing an accurate un-encumbered surface to read from. The text typeset of this edition is extremely clear and the binding of the book is much more orientated towards a practical performer. It will be durable and pages will not crack.

How does all this impact us as performers? Some of the information presented by Monsieur Dupuis causes me to reflect upon my own recollections as a performer. I must admit, in some of my personal experiences (when playing the music of Cesar Franck, for example) in Australia in many of our relatively acoustically dry environments, I most certainly saw the need for common notes or 'notes communes' as they say in French. I must admit that I was quite taken aback when I had the privilege to play the Cavaille-Coll organ at St Ouen, Rouen at great length and to hear others playing it from downstairs in the nave of the abbey. What struck me was how incredibly clear the instrument was, even if one were to attempt to play contrapuntal music. I would not have imagined that a late Cavaille-Coll organ of this nature (perhaps the apogee of Cavaille-Coll's output?) would actually lend itself to such incredible clarity or would be intended to. I then came to realise that of course, even in such a vast acoustically reverberant environment as L'abbaye Saint-Ouen de Rouen, that due to that clarity, it was indeed still completely necessary (when playing music, for example, by Franck and indeed, also Widor) to use the same techniques of 'notes communes'. I also have upon studying this vital school reflected upon other aspects of performance, such as the fusion of voices in unison. Of course, this can be slightly problematic in a very dry acoustic, but nonetheless I think that upon analysis, it is a very valid point.

There are issues of course with attempting to play some of this music on English organs, especially if one is playing, for example, a three manual English organ with a typical Choir division (which in no way compares to the secondary great that the French call the Positif - and of course nor should it, they are very different schools of organ-building). Similarly, although there are incredibly effective swell boxes on some English organs (St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne), nonetheless the timbre of French organs is quite different, and the construction of the swell boxes is similarly different. And so some adaptations would have to be made to bring about the same realisation of dynamic contrast, as what Widor imagined. Indeed, perhaps the organ at Sainte-Sulpice in Paris where much of this music was conceived, really is a one off anyway. On the one hand, it has such an incredibly successful swell box perched high above the main organ case almost touching the ceiling of the basilica. It is in the most optimal of all of all positions, and yet atypically of, say, the organ at St Clothilde, it also retains many of the mixture ranks from the pre-existing historic organ of 1781 by Clicquot that Cavaille-Coll chose to incorporate in his new instrument.

I think Monsieur Dupuis's point about trying to re-establish the mindset of the nineteenth century when we perform Widor's music is very valid. By way of ironic contrast Widor's preface is rather curious in its notions about the style of organs that came before the French symphonic ones. He says, curiously, that the old organs hardly had any reeds. In fact, many French classical organs had a multitude of reeds and although he extols the virtues of the barker lever machine for the playing action at Sainte-Sulpice (which is of course very suited to the music that he wrote), nonetheless there are many fine examples of suspended French action, which ideally suit the repertoire of the seventeenth and eighteenth century with its plenitude of rich ornamentation or 'Les Agrements'. Perhaps Widor was referring to German rather than French organs, but they too often had many reed stops such as on Schnitger organs.

On a purely practical note, as merely one further example of why Dupuis felt the need for a new edition, one should compare the Dover edition of the `Symphonie Gothique' in the second movement, the Andante Sostenuto, with Dupuis's new rendering. In the Dover edition (which is based on the original Hamelle version), both hands start on the Grand Orgue whereas in Dupuis's edition he has chosen to allocate the right hand to the Grand Orgue and left hand to the Recit because this greatly improves the contrast in timbres and allows the melody to soar above the accompaniment. This is a modest and yet transformational editorial adjustment. Dupuis justified this change by the fact that there is a recording of Widor himself doing exactly that. So, in fact, we have primary source justification for the change.

A further example that supports Dupuis's assertion that generally speaking the phrases in Widor's music are imagined as much longer (and that the slurs indicated in the original scores were expressive devices) rather than an indication to breathe in the manner of woodwind or brass players, one would only need to look at the opening bars of Olivier Messiaen's 'Le Banquet Celeste' written in 1928 and therefore at a time in which Widor was still very much alive but composition was being taken in an entirely new direction. In some senses, compared to Messiaen's later organ music, it is still a relatively 'conservative' piece in some aspects (still employing a key signature, employing romantic phrasing, traditional notation) and yet revolutionary in others. At the end of the second bar, one might with our 'modern' sensibilities instinctively imagine that there would be a breath, and yet Messiaen clearly indicates that there is not by his phrasing. Just maybe this is a last final nod to a continuation of that absolute legato style initiated by Lemmens.

I can highly recommend this new edition of Widor's organ symphonies. Dupuis lends the performer clarity, and a reimagining of Widor's true authentic style that has perhaps been lacking in some earlier editions that merely sought to reprint pre-existing often inaccurate material without taking the brave step into constructive and purposeful revision.

Kurt Ison in Sydney Organ Journal, pages 45 - 46.

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