Saint-Saëns, (Charles-) Camille

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Saint-Saëns, (Charles-) Camille

Saint-Saëns, (Charles-) Camille , celebrated French composer; b. Paris, Oct. 9, 1835; d. Algiers, Dec. 16, 1921. His widowed mother sent him to his greataunt, Charlotte Masson, who taught him to play piano. He proved exceptionally gifted, and gave a performance in a Paris salon before he was 5; at 6, he began to compose; at 7, he became a private pupil of Stamaty; so rapid was his progress that he made his pianistic debut at the Salle Pleyel on May 6, 1846, playing a Mozart concerto and a movement from Beethoven’s C minor Concerto, with Orch. After studying harmony with Pierre Maleden, he entered the Paris Cons., where his teachers were Benoist (organ) and Halévy (composition). He won the second prize for organ in 1849, and the first prize in 1851. In 1852 he competed unsuccessfully for the Grand Prix de Rome, and failed again in a second attempt in 1864, when he was already a composer of some stature. His Ode à Sainte Cécile for Voice and Orch. was awarded the first prize of the Société Sainte- Cécile (1852). On Dec. 11, 1853, his first numbered sym. was performed; Gounod wrote him a letter of praise, containing a prophetic phrase regarding the “obligation de devenir un grand maitre.” From 1853 to 1857 Saint- Saëns was organist at the church of Saint-Merry in Paris; in 1857 he succeeded Léfebure-Wély as organist at the Madeleine. This important position he filled with distinction, and soon acquired a great reputation as virtuoso on the organ and a master of improvisation. He resigned in 1876, and devoted himself mainly to composition and conducting; also continued to appear as a pianist and organist. From 1861 to 1865 he taught piano at the École Niedermeyer; among his pupils were André Messager and Gabriel Fauré. Saint-Saëns was one of the founders of the Société Nationale de Musique (1871), established for the encouragement of French composers, but withdrew in 1886 when d’Indy proposed to include works by foreign composers in its program. In 1875 he married Marie Truffot; their 2 sons died in infancy; they separated in 1881, but were never legally divorced; Madame Saint-Saëns died in Bordeaux on Jan. 30, 1950, at the age of 95. In 1891 Saint-Saëns established a museum in Dieppe (his father’s birthplace), to which he gave his MSS and his collection of paintings and other art objects. On Oct. 27, 1907, he witnessed the unveiling of his own statue (by Marqueste) in the court foyer of the opera house in Dieppe. He received many honors: in 1868 he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor; in 1884, Officer; in 1900, Grand-Officer; in 1913, Grand-Croix (the highest rank). In 1881 he was elected to the Institut de France; he was also a member of many foreign organizations; received an honorary Mus.D. degree at the Univ. of Cambridge. He visited the U.S. for the first time in 1906; was a representative of the French government at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 and conducted his choral work Hail California (San Francisco, June 19, 1915), written for the occasion. In 1916, at the age of 81, he made his first tour of South America; continued to appear in public as conductor of his own works almost to the time of his death. He took part as conductor and pianist in a festival of his works in Athens in May 1920. He played a program of his piano pieces at the Saint-Saëns museum in Dieppe on Aug. 6, 1921. For the winter he went to Algiers, where he died.

The position of Saint-Saëns in French music was very important. His abilities as a performer were extraordinary; he aroused the admiration of Wagner during the latter’s stay in Paris (1860–61) by playing at sight the entire scores of Wagner’s operas; curiously, Saint-Saëns achieved greater recognition in Germany than in France during the initial stages of his career. His most famous opera, Samson et Dalila, was produced in Weimar (1877) under the direction of Eduard Lassen, to whom the work was suggested by Liszt; it was not performed in France until nearly 13 years later, in Rouen. He played his first and third piano concertos for the first time at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. Solidity of contrapuntal fabric, instrumental elaboration, fullness of sonority in orchestration, and a certain harmonic saturation are the chief characteristics of his music, qualities that were not yet fully exploited by French composers at the time, the French public preferring the lighter type of music. However, Saint-Saëns overcame this initial opposition, and toward the end of his life was regarded as an embodiment of French traditionalism. The shock of the German invasion of France in World War I made him abandon his former predilection for German music, and he wrote virulent articles against German art. He was unalterably opposed to modern music, and looked askance at Debussy; he regarded later manifestations of musical modernism as outrages, and was outspoken in his opinions. That Saint-Saëns possessed a fine sense of musical characterization, and true Gallic wit, is demonstrated by his ingenious suite Carnival of the Animals, which he wrote in 1886 but did not allow to be publ. during his lifetime. He also publ. a book of elegant verse (1890). For a complete list of his works, see the Durand Catalogue général et thématique des oeuvres de Saint-Saëns (Paris, 1897; rev. ed., 1909).


DRAMATIC (all first perf. in Paris unless otherwise given): Opera : La Princesse jaune (June 12, 1872); Le Timbre d’argent (Feb. 23, 1877); Samson et Dalila (Weimar, Dec. 2, 1877); Étienne Marcel (Lyons, Feb. 8, 1879); Henry VIII (March 5, 1883); Proserpine (March 16, 1887); Ascanio (March 21, 1890); Phryné (May 24, 1893); Frédégonde (Dec. 18, 1895); Les Barbares (Oct. 23, 1901); Hélène (Monte Carlo, Feb. 18, 1904); L’Ancêtre (Monte Carlo, Feb. 24, 1906); Déjanire (Monte Carlo, March 14, 1911). Ballet : Javotte (Lyons, Dec. 3, 1896). Incidental Music To : Antigone (Nov. 21, 1893); Parysatis (Béziers, Aug. 17, 1902); Andromaque (Feb. 7, 1903); La Foi (Monte Carlo, April 10, 1909); On ne badine pas avec l’amour (Feb. 8, 1917). Film : L’Assassinat du Duc de Guise (Nov. 16, 1908). ORCH .: Overture to a comic opera (e. 1850); Scherzo for Small Orch. (e. 1850); 5 syms.: A major (e. 1850), No. 1 in E-flat major, op.2 (Paris, Dec. 18, 1853), F major, Urbs Roma (1856; Paris, Feb. 15, 1857), No. 2 in A minor, op.55 (Leipzig, Feb. 20, 1859), and No. 3, Organ, in C minor, op.78 (London, May 19, 1886); Ouverture d’un opéra comique inachevé, op.140 (1854); Tarantelle for Flute, Clarinet, and Orch., op.6 (1857); 5 piano concertos (ail first perf. with the composer as soloist): No. 1, op.17 (1858; Leipzig, Oct. 26, 1865), No. 2, op.22 (Paris, May 6, 1868), No. 3, op.29 (Leipzig, Nov. 25, 1869), No. 4, op.44 (Paris, Oct. 31, 1875), and No. 5, Egyptian, op.103 (Paris, June 3, 1896); 3 violin concertos: No. 1, op.20 (1859; Paris, April 4, 1867), No. 2, op.58 (1858; Paris, Feb. 13, 1880), and No. 3, op.61 (1880; Paris, Jan. 2, 1881); Introduction and Rondo capriccioso for Violin and Orch., op.28 (1863); Suite, op.49 (1863); Spartacus Overture (1863); Marche héroïque, op.34 (1871); Romance for Flute or Violin and Orch., op.37 (1871); Le Rouet d’Omphale, op.31 (Paris, Jan. 9, 1872); 2 cello concertos: No. 1, op.33 (1872; Paris, Jan. 19, 1873) and No. 2, op.119 (1902; Paris, Feb. 5, 1905); Phaéton, op.39 (Paris, Dec. 7, 1873); Romance for Horn or Cello and Orch., op.36 (1874); Romance for Violin and Orch., op.48 (1874); Danse macabre, op.40 (1874; Paris, Jan. 24, 1875); La Jeunesse d’Hercule, op.50 (Paris, Jan. 28, 1877); Suite algérienne, op.60 (Paris, Dec. 19, 1880); Morceau de concert for Violin and Orch., op.62 (1880); Une Nuit à Lisbonne, op.63 (1880; Paris, Jan. 23, 1881); Jota aragonese, op.64 (1880); Rapsodie d’Auvergne, op.73 (1884); Wedding Cake for Piano and Orch., op.76 (1885); Le Carnaval des animaux (1886; Paris, Feb. 26, 1922); Havanaise for Violin and Orch., op.83 (1887); Morceau de concert for Horn and Orch., op.94 (1887); Rapsodie bretonne, op.7 bis (1891); Africa for Piano and Orch., op.89 (Paris, Oct. 25, 1891); Sarabande et Rigaudon, op.93 (1892); Marche du couronnement, op.117 (c. 1902); Caprice andalous for Violin and Orch., op.122 (1904); Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après La foi, op.130 (1908); Morceau de concert for Harp and Orch., op.154 (1918); Cyprès et Lauriers for Organ and Orch., op.156 (1919); Odelette for Flute and Orch., op.162 (1920); also works for Band. chamber : 2 piano quartets (1853, 1875); Piano Quintet, op.14 (1855); Caprice brillant for Piano and Violin (1859); Suite for Piano and Cello, op.16 (1862); 2 piano trios, opp. 18 and 92 (1863, 1892); Sérénade for Piano, Organ, Violin, and Viola or Cello, op.15 (1866; also for Orch.); Romance for Piano, Organ, and Violin, op.27 (1868); Les Odeurs de Paris for 2 Trumpets, Harp, Piano, and Strings (c. 1870); Berceuse for Piano and Violin, op.38 (1871); 2 cello sonatas, opp. 32 and 123 (1872, 1905); Allegro appassionato for Cello and Piano, op.43 (1875; also for Cello and Orch.); Romance for Piano and Cello, op.51 (1877); Septet for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings, op.65 (1881); Romance for Piano and Horn, op.67 (1885); 2 violin sonatas, opp. 75 and 102 (1885, 1896); Caprice sur des airs danois et russes for Piano, Flute, Oboe, and Clarinet, op.79 (1887); Chant saphique for Piano and Cello, op.91 (1892); Fantaisie for Harp, op.95 (1893); Barcarollefor Violin, Cello, Organ, and Piano, op. 108 (1897); 2 string quartets, opp. 112 and 153 (1899, 1918); Fantaisie for Violin and Harp, op.124 (1907); La Muse et le poète for Violin, Cello, and Piano, op.132 (1910; also for Violin, Cello, and Orch.); Triptyque for Piano and Violin, op.136 (1912); Élégie for Piano and Violin, op.143 (1915); Cavatine for Piano and Trombone, op.144 (1915); L’Air de la pendule for Piano and Violin (c. 1918); Prière for Organ and Violin or Cello, op.158 (1919); Élégie for Piano and Violin, op.160 (1920); Oboe Sonata, op.166 (1921); Clarinet Sonata, op.167 (1921); Bassoon Sonata, op.168 (1921); piano pieces. vocal: Sacred pieces, including Oratorio de Noël for Solo Voices, Chorus, String Quartet, Harp, and Organ, op.12 (1858), Veni Creator for Chorus and Organ ad libitum (1858), and Le Déluge, oratorio for Solo Voices, Chorus, and Orch., op.45 (1875; Paris, March 5, 1876); secular choral works; song cycles (Mélodies persanes[1870], La Cendre rouge[1914], etc.); about 100 solo songs; also cadenzas to Mozart’s piano concertos K.482 and 491, and to Beethoven’s fourth Piano Concerto and Violin Concerto; made various transcriptions and arrangements.


(all publ. in Paris unless otherwise given): Notice sur Henri Reber (1881); Harmonie et mélodie (1885; ninth ed., 1923); Charles Gounod et le “Don Juan” de Mozart (1893); Problèmes et mystères (1894; rev. ed., aug., 1922, as Divagations sérieuses); Portraits et souvenirs (1899; third ed., 1909); Essai sur les lyres et cithares antiques (1902); Quelques mots sur “Prosperpine” (Alexandria, 1902); École buissonnière: Notes et souvenirs (1913; abr. Eng. tr., 1919); Notice sur Le Timbre d’argent (Brussels, 1914); H. Bowie, ed., On the Execution of Music, and Principally of Ancient Music (San Francisco, 1915); Au courant de la vie (1916); Germanophile (1916); Les idées de M. Vincent d’Indy (1919); F. Rothwell, tr., Outspoken Essays on Music (London and N.Y., 1922).


C. Bellaigue, M. C. S.-S.(Paris, 1889); C. Kit and P. Loanda, Musique savante. Sur la musique de M. S.-S.(Lille, 1889); Blondel, C. S.-S. et son cinquantenaire artistique (Paris, 1896); O. Neitzel, C. S.-S.(Berlin, 1899); E. Solenière, C. S.-S.(Paris, 1899); special S.-S. issue of Le Monde Musical (Oct. 31, 1901); E. Baumann, Les Grandes Formes de la musique: L’Oeuvre de S.-S.(Paris, 1905; new ed., 1923); L. Auge de Lassus, S.-S.(Paris, 1914); J. Bonnerot, C. S.-S. (Paris, 1914; second ed., 1922); J. Montargis, C. S.-S.(Paris, 1919); Funérailles de S.-S.(collection of speeches, Paris, 1921); J. Chantavoine, L’Oeuvre dramatique de C. S.-S.(Paris, 1921); A. Hervey, S.-S.(London, 1921); W. Lyle, C. S.-S., His Life and Art (London, 1923); G. Servières, S.S.(Paris, 1923; second ed., 1930); A. Dandelot, S.S.(Paris, 1930); J. Handschin, C. S.-S.(Zürich, 1930); J. Normand, S.S.(1930); L. Schneider, Une Heure avec S.S.(1930); J. Langlois, C. S.-S.(Moulins, 1934); R. Dumanine, Les Origines normandes de C. S.-S.(Rouen, 1937); R. Fauchois, La Vie et l’oeuvre prodigieuse de C. S.-S.(Paris, 1938); J. Chantavoine, C. S.-S.(Paris, 1947); J. Harding, S.-S. and His Circle (London, 1965); S. Ratner, The Piano Works of C. S.-S.(diss., Univ. of Mich., 1972); D. Fallon, The Symphonies and Symphonic Poems of C. S.-S.(diss., Yale Univ., 1973); E. Harkins, The Chamber Music of S.S.(diss., N.Y.U., 1976); M. Stegemann, C. S.-S und das franzosische Solokonzert von 1850 bis 1920 (Mainz, 1984; Eng. tr., 1991); R. Smith, S.-S and the Organ (Stuyvesant, N.Y., 1992).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Saint-Saëns, (Charles-) Camille

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Saint-Saëns, (Charles-) Camille