Back in 1863, César Franck broke new ground with the composition of his Grande Pièce Symphonique – the very first symphony for solo organ. It is Franck’s only “symphony” for the organ. Of course, there is also his magnificent D minor Symphony for full orchestra, arranged much later for organ by others.
In 1872, Charles-Marie Widor wrote his first of ten organ symphonies. (He is best known for the Toccata which is the final movement of his Fifth Symphony.) Widor presided over the imposing organ of the church of St. Sulpice in Paris.
The next great composer of organ symphonies was Louis Vierne, organist of Notre Dame from 1900 to 1937. In Vierne’s six symphonies, one can trace his musical evolution towards greater and greater chromaticism and technical brilliance. My favorite Vierne symphony? Whichever one is being played at the moment: they are all impressive and superb.
This Sunday, organist Michael Kaminski will be performing Vierne’s Organ Symphony No. 3 in F sharp minor (1911) as the second half of his recital program here. There will be a bit of nostalgia for me, since I turned pages for Dr. Kaminski’s performances of all six Vierne symphonies many years ago. The first half of Dr. Kaminski’s program will also include masterworks by other great French romantic composers: Franck, Widor, Saint-Saëns, and Guilmant. Frankly, it’s a recital program chock full of very satisfying organ pieces. Come and enjoy!