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OrganistOnTheHill

Tackling Widor Toccata

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Don’t think of it as hard. Sure, it’s got a lot of fast notes which are supposed to be sempre staccato, but start well under speed. There are some particularly awkward patterns—I suggest you don’t settle on a definitive fingering for those straight away—get the music in your head first. Registration is awkward, don’t worry about that while your learning the notes. Some people swear by switching the hands over near the end when the LH is high up—that’s a matter of personal preference. A little as often as you can would be my recommendation. Start hands separately!

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Consider carefully which edition to use. Widor made a number of revisions to his works during his long lifetime and you will find there are slight differences in articulation markings. I would recommend using the 1918 edition, not that of 1901 (both are available on IMSLP). You find other threads here on other (costly) editions. Listen to the recording Widor himself made, not just for the tempo, but for his articulation: you will notice that in the left hand he carefully emphasises the first chord in each grouping as marked. Indeed this may be the reason for his slow tempo, because it would not be so noticeable at the very fast speeds many organists play this piece. Don’t worry about the metronome markings - Widor didn’t! Play it at the speed you feel is right for you, the piece, the organ and the building.

I agree with the advice above about little and often. Once you have learnt this piece, it is a good idea to maintain it by playing it through regularly. I, for one, find that, once learnt, it is best not played every day, certainly not more than once, otherwise one is likely to develop repetitive strain injury, an issue any musician starting out should take very seriously, since an awful lot of professional musicians sadly end up with permanent injuries. What a sensible chap Widor was to take his Toccata at a steady pace! No doubt clambering up the organ loft steps of Saint Sulpice for sixty years did him good as well!

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Widor was 88 years old he recorded the Toccata at St Sulpice in April 1932, so this might account for the tempo. I make no apology for plugging John Near's edition which appears to be the most recent and authoritative. I took the plunge when discounts were offered; keep an eye out in case they are offered again in the future. 

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