Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Charles Camille Saint-Saëns

Charles Camille Saint-Saëns was born in Paris, October 9, 1835. He was astonishingly precocious; is said to have begun the study of the piano before he was three years old; and at the age of five he was able to play light operas from the score. He entered the Paris Conservatory when only seven, taking courses in piano, composition and organ. When sixteen, he gained the first prize in organ-playing; in 1853 became organist of Saint-Mery; in 1858 organist at the Madeleine. After 1870 he gave his entire time to composition and public performances. Although he had become famous chiefly as a pianist, organist, and instrumental composer, his strong predilection for the drama impelled him to turn his attention very seriously to the stage, and he brought forth, in rapid succession, numerous (about fourteen) dramatic works, among them the justly celebrated sacred drama Samson andDelilaha (1877), and the equally distinguished operas Etienne Marcel(1879) and Henry VIII (1883)---also oratorios, cantatas and many other sacred works.

In 1881 Saint-Saëns took Reber's place in the Academie; in 1892 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Cambridge University; and a host of decorations, and honors of many kinds bore witness to the universal esteem in which he was held, throughout the musical world.

He was always an enthusiastic traveler, visiting many countries in the threefold capacity of pianist, organist, and conductor of his own works. He visited America twice, in 1906 and 1915.

Saint-Saëns was prolific, versatile (his literary writings were numerous and brilliant), acutely intellectual, quickly responsive to poetic suggestion, and meticulous in his artistic methods. Doubtless less profound than the great classic masters, he contributed all the more to the development and refinement of Romantic Music. His name rests mainly upon his instrumental works, his Symphonies and his original, skillfullylly depicted Tone-Poems (Le Rouet d'Omphale, Phaeton, Danse Macabre, La Jeunesse d'Hercule). Retaining his vigor and enthusiasm in a remarkable degree to the end, he passed away December 16, 1921.

The musical conception and methods of Saint-Saëns were thoroughly typical of the French people, to whom he belonged. That accounts for the character of his music: extremely ingenious, clever, always piquant alluring, polished, preponderantly bright and vivacious; by no means wanting in pathetic and passionate impulses, but these of a more sentimental than profoundly tragic quality. He is adjudged by many critical observers as one of the most brilliant and eminent of French tone-masters, if not the foremost.


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