Charles-Marie-Jean-Albert Widor was born on 21st February 1937 in Lyons, and his organ playing and building father gave him his first music lessons. He showed impressive ability and was made the organist at the lycee in Lyons when he was 11. He was sent to Brussels to study with Lemmens, who taught him about Bach , and then in 1870 Widor was appointed to St Sulpice in Paris, where he stayed for the next 64 years. During this time he composed prolifically, but was also a music critic (writing under the name 'Auletes'), conductor of a choral society, and became professor of organ and then of composition at the Paris Conservatory in the 1890s, where he was a dedicated teacher (students included Nadia Boulanger and Marcel Dupré). He used his contacts to gather funds for artists who suffered in WWI.
Widor's organ works are the best known of his compositions, and they are unusual in making use of the full possibilites of the instruments of the time. The ten organ symphonies use the instrument as a little orchestra, and are broken into movements of types rarely heard on the organ, such as marches and pastorales. The most famous of these movements include the Marche pontificiale of the First Symphony, the Andante Cantabile of the Fourth, the Toccata of the Fifth, the Variations of the Fifth and Eighth, and the Allegro of the Sixth Symphony. Widor was also responsible for the opera Les Pecheurs de Saint-Jean (1905), and wrote vocal music, chamber music and piano pieces.
He was greatly inspired by Bach's organ works, using them for teaching, and performing them with an exactness and clarity that was nevertheless unhurried and full of care. Together with Albert Scheitzer he produced a book of Bach organ music. He was also known as a talented improviser, famous for his improvisation wars with Fauré at St Sulpice during the 1870s.