top of page

Why was it necessary to publish
a new edition of WIDOR's ten symphonies?

Let's take a look at the history

Any organist playing Widor's symphonies on the basis of the old editions published between 1872 and 1920 knows the difficulties of approaching this music, resulting from a huge number of errors and inconsistencies in the text. The publishers who own the rights to these symphonies have not found it necessary to remedy this, as they are not faced with any competition. As copyright laws are not identical in every country, Widor's work entered the public domain in 1987 in the United States, while in Europe it took until 2007. Taking advantage of this, the American organist John NEAR published an edition of Widor's ten symphonies with AR-Editions, claiming to correct all the errors of previous editions. This complete edition remained without any possible competition in Europe for 20 years, which gave it time to establish itself and to be considered by some as a reference.


It should be recalled that in 1985 the organist John NEAR presented a thesis entitled The Life and Work of Charles-Marie Widor at Boston University for the degree of Doctor of Musical Art. The reception of this work was mixed, particularly in France. In 1988 the French magazine "L’orgue" published a special issue devoted exclusively to Widor, where the foreword read: ‘After completing the work published here, we became aware of a doctoral thesis on Widor written by an American organist, whose name we will not mention. We were able to obtain a copy in the hope of finding some interesting details. Our disappointment was great: “big book, thin thesis”. This work does not appear in our bibliography, which includes only the works that we consulted during our work (Alain HOBBS, L’orgue, Cahiers et mémoires, No. 40, p. 3, Paris, 1988, translated from French). No comment.

My approach to Widor's work

Having been familiar with Widor’s organ works for more than half a century, I was confronted, like every organist, with the innumerable errors in the old editions, errors that are still being republished today. Not wanting to be swayed by the negative review of John NEAR’s work in the French magazine “L’orgue”, I had hoped to find answers to my questions in his edition of the ten symphonies. In 2006, I therefore obtained this complete edition, which I examined in detail, without prejudice. But unfortunately, like Mr HOBBS, I was very disappointed.

What are the problems with the Widor symphonies published by AR-Editions?

1. THE FORM
At first sight, we are immediately confronted with a score whose engraving and layout are cruelly lacking in care and finish. Some inconsistencies in the engraving even make it difficult to read. Here are two examples, taken from the 8th symphony, on pages 40 and 42 respectively.

In the following illustration, you will also notice a curiously positioned registration indication.

2. THE SUBSTANCE

The main problem with John NEAR's edition is the profusion of inappropriate suggestions, some of which create all kinds of faults, not least in harmony. For example, in the Adagio of the Fifth Symphony, measure 23, the dissonance in the right hand between the upper B natural and the lower B flat does not pose any problem. However, John NEAR erroneously suggests adding a flat to the upper part, as if it were an oversight. This fragment is on page 47. Moreover, the critical report does not mention this addition.

The following example, taken from the finale of the firts Symphony at measure 110, is even more disturbing, for in addition to the uselessness of the suggested alteration in the left hand in the last measure, this 'correction' creates a harmonic error by doubling an sensitive note: B natural. This fragment is on page 52. The critical report explains that this addition is optional, but it justifies it in a strange way: « M. 110, staff 2, note 7, the editor has inserted a natural because of the parallel octaves with staff 1, upper voice… ». This explanation is not very convincing.

On the other hand, when it is essential to make proposals for correction, John NEAR’s edition does not suggest anything. These shortcomings are numerous. In the finale of the 3rd symphony alone, for example, there are four. The following fragments compare the unlisted errors in AR-Editions with the corrections made in my edition (LD), all of which are explained in the editorial note.

It would be tedious to make an exhaustive inventory of all the errors, which do not only concern errors of harmony. There are also a number of passages that are unplayable in the older editions and for which no alternative solution has been proposed. Even the proposed translation of Widor’s foreword contains an inaccuracy. Thus, when Widor quotes the Dutch organ builder Hess, his name is translated into English as 'Hess de Gouda' rather than 'Hess from Gouda', Gouda being a town in the Netherlands and not part of the name of the craftsman. This detail may seem trivial, but it reveals a lack of care.

The genesis of my edition

It was therefore obvious that a new edition had to be created, which I began to do for my own personal use and exclusively on the basis of sources that I considered reliable. Then, gradually, the idea of making my edition accessible to the public appeared to me as a necessity to do justice to this composer, encouraged by one of his maxims quoted by John NEAR in his comments on his book Widor on Organ Performance Practice and Technique: “You have a duty to do a thing if you are sure it is necessary for the general interest!”


This edition is therefore the result of decades of careful study and reflection. It breaks away from the traditional practices of musicological publishing insofar as it avoids cluttering the musical text with annotations, brackets and cross-references of all kinds. Each intervention is precisely indicated by an editorial note at the end of the score, the reading of which is left to the discretion of the performer. Each performer is thus free to choose his or her own reading mode, for the benefit of greater readability. Everyone is free to transfer to the musical text the indications he or she wishes to see included. The purpose of the editorial choices is thus present and complete, and fully translated into English. The point of my work is to finally offer interpreters a practical, easy-to-read and error-free edition at a reasonable price. I hope I have succeeded.

Luc Dupuis

bottom of page