Charles-Marie Widor, French organist and composer of the well-known Toccata, composed ten “symphonies” for organ. The tenth and final symphony, Symphonie Romane, Op. 73 (1900), includes a dedication, “To the Memory of Saint-Sernin of Toulouse.” Modern-day organists seem to take this dedication as a performance directive, studying, playing, and recording the piece on the Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ at the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. In this thesis, I examine the historical contexts and performance tradition of the piece through ethnographic research, interviews, primary sources, and contemporary writings. I begin with biographical information on Widor and his compositions, placing the composer in the greater historical context of the French organ school in the late nineteenth century. As performer, professor, and composer, Widor held an important position in the French school and influenced many later composers. I discuss his decision to write the ninth and tenth organ symphonies—both based on Gregorian chant themes—and propose several theories. I also examine the close personal and professional relationship between Cavaillé-Coll and Widor. Widor’s music relies heavily on the innovations Cavaillé-Coll included in his instruments and I give specific examples of Widor’s reliance on the new symphonic organs. I consider the organ at Saint-Sernin using a fascinating primary source from 1889, the Saint-Sernin organ committee’s report on the restoration of the organ by Cavaillé-Coll. To provide some clarity to the question of the dedications, I analyze the differences between the Symphonie Gothique and the Symphonie Romane, Widor’s premieres of the pieces, and his writings on the works. Drawing from my ethnographic research during studies in Toulouse, I identify specific problems when playing the Symphonie Romane at the Basilica of Saint-Sernin. This leads to a discussion of the modern performance tradition in light of the historical records previously considered. Many foreign organists have travelled to Toulouse to perform the Romane in the Basilica and American organists, interested in the French musical scene since the end of the nineteenth century, have continued this tradition. I include a brief passage on the reception history of Widor’s music in both the United States and France. I conclude the thesis with a refutation of the modern performance tradition at the Basilica and propose instead that the piece be viewed as Widor viewed it: as a work of sacred art.

Degree Date

Summer 8-6-2019

Document Type


Degree Name





Zachary Wallmark

Second Advisor

Peter Kupfer

Third Advisor

Christopher Anderson

Subject Area


Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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