About This Work
Saint-Saëns completed the Havanaise in E major for violin and orchestra, Op. 83, in 1887; however, the work's origins predate this by two years. In November 1885, the composer set out on a concert tour with the violinist, Raphael Diaz Albertini,
playing throughout northern France before moving on to Germany. While in Brest on a cold night, Saint-Saëns built a fire in his hotel room, the popping sound of the burning wood sparking a melodic idea in his mind. Saint-Saëns originally wrote the piece for violin and piano, soon after orchestrating the piano accompaniment. The Havanaise, Op. 83, was published in 1888 in Paris with a dedication to Albertini.
A havanaise (habañera in Spanish) is a dance in 2/4 time that developed in Cuba from African rhythms. Saint-Saëns' Latin-sounding main theme consists of an eighth note triplet on the first beat of the measure and a duplet on the second, creating a Latin rhythm that appealed to Albertini, who had Cuban origins. The drooping melody is punctuated with fiery virtuosic passages and whenever it moves away from the havanaise rhythm and becomes reflective, a soft drum steps in to remind us of the opening dance. After a quick passage, we hear two more themes, these more Romantic in flavor than the main theme. Unlike the first theme, these are entirely the property of the soloist, and the orchestra is reduced to an accompanimental role while continuing to give us the havanaise rhythm. During the developmental, virtuosic passages, Saint-Saëns' inserts quick asides for the violin, as well as the smooth chromatic scales and trills, to suggest glances and caresses. A high, sustained harmonic on the solo violin closes the work.
-- John Palmer
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