(1835 – 1921)
On October 9, 1835, French composer, organist, conductor, and pianist of the Romantic era Camille Saint-Saëns was born. He 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. Moreover, his interests also exceeded the musical genre as being an expert in mathematics and maintaining strong interests in the sciences — everything from archaeology to botany, but particularly astronomy.
It was clear that Camille Saint-Saëns would become a child prodigy with a perfect pitch when he was about two years old. At the incredible age of 4, he managed to write his first composition and also in other subjects he achieved stunning outputs. For instance, Saint-Saëns was able to read and write at the age of three and knew the Latin language well only four years later. But by then, he already performed on various stages and received the best known piano lessons. He played Bach, Händel, Mozart, Beethoven and across Europe, people started talking about the brilliant child. In the following years, Saint-Saëns got to meet several celebrities as his reputation grew and one of those was Franz Liszt, whom he became good friends with.
As already mentioned, Saint-Saëns’ talents were ranged widely. He published several works on philosophy and astronomy and befriended numerous scientists, whom he held lively discussions with. His thoughts on geology, mathematics, botany, and of course philosophy and astronomy were welcomed by society and his circle of friends. After the Franco-Prussian War was over, Saint-Saëns moved to London for in order to get away from Paris, but founded the Société Nationale de Musique only a few months later. This society became a very powerful institution in France and helped him to even increase his popularity and empowered him to change French music in general.
Franz Liszt passed away in 1886 Saint-Saëns dedicated two of his most famous compositions, the ‘Carnival of the Animals‘ and ‘Symphony No. 3‘ to his good friend. In his last active period, Saint-Saëns began spending more time on traveling and discussion his scientific subjects of interest next to composing further works played in Europe and the United States.
After his death in 1921, Saint-Saëns was remembered as a pioneer in music, who introduced the symphonic poem to France and mastered the works of Mozart and Bach. His works were known to be very hard to play and needed an expert and virtuoso to play them nearly as brilliant as he did. Even though he was known to be quite old-fashioned, it was Saint-Saëns, who approached French classicism inspired pieces that made him a pioneer of the neoclassicism.
At yovisto, you may enjoy ‘Danse Bacchanale‘ as part of the opera Samson and Deliah by Camille Saint-Saëns. The opera was first performed in Weimar in 1877.
References and Further Reading:
- Memories of Some Distinguished French Organists: Saint-Saëns, The Musical Times
- Camille Saint-Saëns: A Guide to Research
- Camille Saint-Saens in the BBC
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