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Camille Saint-SaŽns

Biography

Born: Oct 9, 1835; France   Died: Dec 16, 1921; Algeria   Period: Romantic
Camille Saint-SaŽns 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 bourťe and gavotte. He was a conservative who wrote many popular scores scattered Read more 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-SaŽns 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 Halťvy. By his early twenties, 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 …cole Niedermeyer (1861-1865). 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-SaŽns married the 19-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-SaŽns developed a fondness for Faurť and his family, acting as a second father to Faurť's 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-SaŽns' 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-SaŽns 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. Read less
Saint-saŽns: Violin Concerto No 3, Etc / Kang, Wit
Release Date: 10/04/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550752   Number of Discs: 1
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Saint-saŽns: Piano Trios No 1 & 2 / Joachim Trio
Release Date: 05/23/1995   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550935   Number of Discs: 1
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Saint-saŽns: Cello Concertos, Etc / Kliegel, Monnard, Et Al
Release Date: 04/08/1997   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8553039   Number of Discs: 1
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Saint-saŽns: Carnival Of The Animals, Etc / LenŠrd, Et Al
Release Date: 08/15/2000   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8554463   Number of Discs: 1
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Organ Meditation - Grieg, Saint-saŽns, Etc/ JŠnos Sebestyťn
Release Date: 02/15/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8550791   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: The Swan

 

About This Work
Camille Saint-Saëns' Le cygne (1886), or The Swan, was one of his most popular pieces of music during the span of his life, although the general public was not aware that it was actually just a part of a larger suite, at the time. The Swan is Read more actually the 13th movement of a suite called The Carnival of the Animals (1886), or the Grande Fantasie Zoologique, as Saint-Saëns referred to it. It was intended to be a "fun" piece, to satisfy the composer's mischievous wit. Saint-Saëns, throughout his teaching and compositional career, enjoyed writing or improvising parody pieces that made fun of a certain composition or a musical style. At the École Niedermeyer, where he taught some of France's brightest young musicians, he would often escape from the boring lessons by leading the students in parodies of this type. Saint-Saëns did not allow for The Carnival of the Animals to be published during his life, because he feared that it would take precedence over his more serious works. The work was eventually published, though, after the composer's death, by order of his last will and testament.

The Swan was written for the aging cellist Charles-Joseph Lebouc, who was famous for his own playing and for being the son-in-law of the well-known singer Adolphe Nourrit. Saint-Saëns had promised a solo piece for the cellist years previous, but he did not get around to the project until February 1886. By this time, Lebouc was the subject of ridicule in the string-playing community due to a number of bad performance habits that he had acquired in his old age. Once he performed The Swan with its extreme mellowness, he again caused his fellow cellists to take notice of the tenderness in his playing.

The Swan was also used as the basis of a dance piece that was choreographed by Michel Fokine. In 1905, the ballet piece, which was retitled La Mort du Cygne, or The Dying Swan, was performed for the first time by the beloved dancer Anna Pavlova. The Dying Swan has remained in the ballet repertoire, and has been performed by countless ballerinas, including Madame Napierkowska during a recital in 1921 that Saint-Saëns witnessed himself just weeks prior to his death.

-- Chris Boyes Read less

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