Our sequence hymn this week, Father, we thank thee, is set to the tune, Rendez a Dieu, which is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (c.1510–1560). Bourgeois was a famous French composer of hymn and psalm tunes. Though nothing is known of his early life, we know that by 1545 he had relocated from Lyon, France to Geneva, Switzerland. Most of Bourgeois' opus is in service of the protestant worship tradition as manifested by the Calvinists. On one occasion, when Bourgeois was imprisoned for changing psalm tones without permission, John Calvin (1509-1564) personally intervened on his behalf. Bourgeois was one of three main composers of the Geneva Psalter. He also composed what has become a staple feature of so many protestant services, Old 100th, perhaps better known as "the doxology". Though the following story may be only a fable, it bears retelling. It is said that when George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) (composer of Messiah) was asked if there were a tune already extant that he wished he had composed himself, Handel replied that he believed that Old 100th was the best tune ever composed, and he wished it were his own.
Our next piece of note this Sunday is the Toccata from Symphonie No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937). Widor, born in Lyon, grew not only to be a founder of the great French Romantic school (style) of organ playing, but he also was one of the most inventive and famous organ composers of his day. In the book, Widor: A Life Beyond the Toccata, author John R. Near shows the entire depth and breadth of Widor's impressive opus. Surprisingly for some, Widor wrote more than organ music. His opus includes ballet scores, opera, chamber music, orchestral works, and more. It was as an organist, however, that Widor made his largest contribution to "canon" repertoire. Widor invented the organ symphony, a musical form closely related to the orchestral symphony but written entirely for organ alone; the organ is the orchestra. Widor's most famous piece is the final movement from his fifth organ symphony, the famous Toccata. During his 63 year tenure as organist at Ste-Sulpice church in Paris, Widor played for countless services and concerts. Although Widor was appreciated by his parish, his relationship to the church was not always ideal. Due to his German sounding last name, Widor was appointed "temporary organist" in 1870 and retained that title until his resignation in 1933. Widor is the classic example of a permanent interim!
This week, we have much cause for celebration. As you participate with us in the Celebration of the Eucharist this week, be joyful that there is so much cause for celebration, and listen to our music as it celebrates our scriptures, communion, and the rich musical heritage of Christendom.
Christopher W. Powell
Organist and Choir Master