The Lady Organist

an online magazine for organists

Francis Jackson…and the Widor Toccata

Picture shows Francis Jackson, Robert Sharpe (r) and David Pipe (l) in the nave of York Minster after evensong last week /Robert Sharpe

Organists roll their eyes and sigh when asked for  “The Widor Toccata” at weddings – it’s become a modern cliché, and most of us know that it all stems from the performance by Francis Jackson at the wedding of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, to Yorkshire girl Miss Katharine Worsley, at York Minster in 1961.  (As a Yorkshire lass myself, I vaguely remember the excitement this created, when a Big Royal Occasion actually happened well north of London for a change.)  Francis Jackson has just published his autobiography Music for a Long While, detailing his life as an organist and composer, and it’s interesting to read the back story to this choice of music.

Apparently Francis sent a tape to the bride-and groom-to-be of four likely pieces for the final music at the wedding: – Bach Toccata in F and the Saint Anne Prelude, Grand Choeur Dialogue by Gigout, and the Widor Toccata in F.  Francis recounts the brouhaha that followed the choice of the Widor – “A wedding wouldn’t be the same without Here comes the bride”, one couple told a national newspaper. And Francis’ comments on the then obligatory Mendelssohn Wedding March: – why have a march anyway; why use a makeshift version for the organ when there is ample material available among the repertoire of genuine organ music; why use music in church that was written for a secular purpose and had become so misused in the music hall whenever there was any suggestion or mention of marriage?

In subsequent discussions in the press it came out that the Toccata was used at Widor’s church, S. Sulpice, for royal affairs and for weddings and so on within the composer’s family – and that a strict embargo was imposed on its use for any other purpose.  (So there.)

Francis Jackson was Organist and Director of Music at York for 36 years from 1946 – my picture of him signing his book in the nave of York Minster last week was tweeted by the current Director of Music, Robert Sharpe.

You can follow Robert on Twitter @RJSYork, and also York Minster’s Assistant Director of Music, David Pipe  @DCJPipeOrganist

FJ autobiog coverMusic for  a Long While
The autobiography of Francis Jackson
Published by Francis Alan Jackson 2013
ISBN 9780957672208
You can buy it on Amazon, or from York Minster online shop







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