Camille Saint-Saens

Camille Saint-Saens was something of an anomaly among French composers of the nineteenth century in that he wrote in virtually all genres, including opera, symphonies, concertos, songs, sacred and secular choral music, solo piano, and chamber music. He was generally not a pioneer, though he did help to revive some earlier and largely forgotten dance forms, like the bouree and gavotte. He was a conservative who wrote many popular scores scattered throughout the various genres: the Piano Concerto No. 2, Symphony No. 3 ("Organ"), the symphonic poem Danse macabre, the opera Samson et Dalila, and probably his most widely performed work, The Carnival of The Animals. While he remained a composer closely tied to tradition and traditional forms in his later years, he did develop a more arid style, less colorful and, in the end, less appealing. He was also a poet and playwright of some distinction.

Saint-Saens was born in Paris on October 9, 1835. He was one of the most precocious musicians ever, beginning piano lessons with his aunt at two-and-a-half and composing his first work at three. At age seven he studied composition with Pierre Maledin. When he was ten, he gave a concert that included Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, Mozart's B flat Concerto, K. 460, along with works by Bach, Handel, and Hummel. In his academic studies, he displayed the same genius, learning languages and advanced mathematics with ease and celerity. He would also develop keen, lifelong interests in geology and astronomy.

In 1848, he entered the Paris Conservatory and studied organ and composition, the latter with Halevy. By his early 20s, following the composition of two symphonies, he had won the admiration and support of Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod, Rossini, and other notable figures. From 1853 to 1876, he held church organist posts; he also taught at the ecole Niedermeyer (1861-65). He composed much throughout his early years, turning out the 1853 Symphony in F ("Urbs Roma"), a Mass (1855) and several concertos, including the popular second, for piano (1868).

In 1875, Saint-Saens married the nineteen-year-old Marie Truffot, bringing on perhaps the saddest chapter in his life. The union produced two children who died within six weeks of each other, one from a four-story fall. The marriage ended in 1881. Oddly, this dark period in his life produced some of his most popular works, including Danse macabre (1875) and Samson et Dalila (1878). After the tragic events of his marriage, Saint-Saens developed a fondness for Faure and his family, acting as a second father to his children.

But he also remained very close to his mother, who had opposed his marriage. When she died in 1888, the composer fell into a deep depression, even contemplating suicide for a time. He did much travel in the years that followed and developed an interest in Algeria and Egypt, which eventually inspired him to write Africa (1891) and his Piano Concerto No. 5, the "Egyptian." He also turned out works unrelated to exotic places, such as his popular and most enduring serious composition, the Symphony No. 3.

Curiously, after 1890, Saint-Saens' music was regarded with some condescension in his homeland, while in England and the United States he was hailed as France's greatest living composer well into the twentieth century. Saint-Saens experienced an especially triumphant concert tour when he visited the U.S. in 1915. In the last two decades of his life, he remained attached to his dogs and was largely a loner. He died in Algeria on December 16, 1921.

Robert Cummings

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
Compilation Symphonies, Piano- and Violin Concerto's 4.00 stars 6CD
Compilation Comments:
Details on a seperate page.
1863-1870 Introduction et Rondo capriccioso 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Kyung Wha Chung - Violin
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1871 Marche heroique 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1872 Le Rouet d'Omphale Opus 31 4.00 stars LP
Rouet Comments:
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra cond. Jean Martinon
1872 Le Rouet d'Omphale Opus 31 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1873 Phaéton 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1875 Danse macabre Opus 40 4.00 stars LP
Danse Macabre Comments:
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra cond. Jean Martinon
1875 Danse macabre Opus 40 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1877 La jeunesse d'Hercule 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1880 Violin Concerto Opus 62 4.00 stars CD
Comments:

Dedicated to Ovide Musin; an alternative to the first movement of Saint-Saens's Violin Concerto No 3 in B minor, Op 61

Phillippr Graffin - Violin
Ulster Orchestra cond. Thierry Fischer

1885 Une flute invisible 4.00 stars CD
Danse Macabre Comments:
Anne Sofie von Otter - Mezzo Soprano
Andreas Alin - Flute
Bengt Forsberg - Piano
1886 Le carnaval des animaux 4.50 stars LP
Carnaval Comments:
Magical music for children of all ages.

THE performance:
Aldo Ciccolini, Alexis Weissenberg - piano
Paris Conservatoire Orchestra cond. Georges Prêtre

1886 Le carnaval des animaux 4.50 stars 2CD
Carnaval Comments:
Magical music for children of all ages.

Martha Argerich, Nelson Freire - piano
Solists

1886 Le carnaval des animaux 4.50 stars CD
Symph. 3 Comments:
Pascal Dutoit - Piano
Christina Ortiz - Piano
London Sinfonietta
1886 Le carnaval des animaux 4.00 stars CD
Darius Milhaud - La Création du Monde  [V. Neumann] Comments:

Version for piano-duo (1944)

Leo van Doeselaar - Piano
Wyneke Jordans - Piano

1886 Symphony No 3 "Organ" 4.50 stars CD
Symph. 3 Comments:
This symphony is a real popular work in all senses of the word. A roller coaster performance by Anita Priest on organ and the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zubin Metha.
1886 Symphony No 3 "Organ" 4.50 stars CD
Symph. 3 Comments:
Peter Hurford - Organ
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal cond. Charles Dutoit
1887 Havanaise 4.50 stars CD
Rouet Comments:
Kyung Wha Chung - Violin
Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Charles Dutoit
1887 Morceaux de Concert Opus 94 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Hermann Baumann - Horn
Gewandhaus Orchestra cond. Kurt Masur