First Visit to Widor

Alexander Schreiner relates first visit to Charles-Marie Widor's organ loft at Church of St. Sulpice.

Upon arriving in Paris, a newcomer from "Les Etats-Unis" invariably looks up his friends and acquaintances in order to get their aid in finding suitable lodging quarters. That is what I did - and located myself in the heart of what is known as the "Latin Quarter" - where students of every subject, and hailing from every land of the globe are in abundance. Just why this section should be called the "Latin Quarter" is not clearly known according to Will Rogers, because, as he says, "No one there speaks Latin and nobody has a quarter."

On the first Sunday morning after arriving, my friends and I braved a rainy Paris to hear Widor play at the Church of St. Sulpice. Widor is the dean of French organists, famous the world over for his compositions for organ. He is now eighty-four years of age, and is active enough to pretty well substantiate his claim that he does not feel old at all. He even recently acquired a wife - one quite young, and his first one! Their comparative ages will have to be modified very little if I say that on their wedding day he was 82 and she 28! Madame Widor is very charming and speaks fluent English, having spent some years in England. To return to St. Sulpice, upon arriving, we asked a beadle which stairway we should take to get into the organ loft. He told us that it would be quite impossible to go up since Monsieur Widor was then playing. When one of our party presented him with a two-franc piece, the situation was changed as if by magic. He donned a smile, and asking us to be very quiet, led the way up and up and up a long stone stairway into a height of the 'steenth story where the great organ is located. I felt certain that the exercise of this weekly climb into the organ loft is what keeps Widor young and fit. There he was at the organ and we were all thrilled; Widor, the famous - and at his side was his friend, Isador Phillipp, the great pianist, composer and teacher. One of Widor's pupils was there, and when we made ourselves known to him, he introduced us all around. There we were, at the largest pipe organ in France. It has five manuals and one hundred registers, two of which later, Widor considered an abomination - the Tremulant and the Vox Humana - and they are therefore in disuse. Charles-Marie Widor was appointed organist there at the age of twenty-eight, has been the official organist for fifty-six years, and is still going strong. His assistant plays only rarely.

At the close of the services, we took leave of Maitre Widor and Maitre Phillipp, and our guide led us into still higher regions of the church. I suppose he considered himself hired for the day, because of that original tip of two francs (ten cents). We must have been in the roof by then and were shown a truly unique relic, a small semiportable organ which had been originally made for and played by Marie Antoinette. When the beadle manned the pump handle and bid me play this toy organ of Marie Antoinette's, I was so delighted that I gave him another franc. It sounded absolutely lovely, having some six flute and diapason registers. When I modulated off into an American melody, my friends almost screamed with pleasure for they had not heard "Swanee River" for several years.

Bidding adieu to the beadle and thanking each other mutually, we left the church and hid ourselves to "Chez Henriette" for our Sunday dinner.

Source: Alexander Schreiner, "Alexander Schreiner Relates Interesting Experience in Paris,” Choir Echoes (Los Angeles : First Methodist Episcopal Church Choir Association, February 1930).