Musique A La Française…

Representing French music in LCS’s Anglo-French Entente Musicale on July 9th will be choral and instrumental works by Charles-Marie Widor, Lili Boulanger and Louis Vierne.

The three composers had strong links with each other: Widor first took Vierne under his wing as a pupil in his organ class and then appointed him as his assistant organist. Vierne himself became organ teacher to both Lili Boulanger and her elder sister Nadia.


Lili Boulanger suffered from illness throughout her life. Despite being 5 feet 9 inches tall, she emphasised her physical frailty by naming herself “petite Lili” and “Bébé”. Nevertheless her strength of will and determination to succeed despite adversity led her to shine in a man’s world, becoming through her compositions the first woman to win the highly prestigious Premier Grand Prix de Rome.

While Lili sadly died at the early age of 24, both Vierne and Widor had long and distinguished careers as organists. Vierne was titular organist at Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral for 37 years, and Widor held the same post at St Sulpice Church in Paris for nearly 64 years, playing until he was 90.

Vierne playing Bach at the Notre Dame organ in 1934:

Two years previously, at the age of 88, Widor plays the famous Toccata from his 5th Organ Symphony at the St Sulpice organ:

The composer was unhappy about the speedy pace at which many organists played the piece, he himself preferring a much more stately tempo.

Some years ago a radio announcer rather made fun of what he obviously thought was Widor’s snail’s pace by starting up the recording, intercutting it with something else and returning to it some minutes later to find the old boy still some way from the conclusion of his toccata!

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