Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Saint-Saëns: The Third Symphony (with Organ)

Saint-Saëns wrote his Third Symphony, C minor, Op.78, in 1885-6, very shortly before the death of Franz Liszt, to whose memory the work is dedicated---signifying the warm friendship and sincere admiration that Saint-Saëns cherished for his older colleague.

It is the most extensive and imposing of his symphonic creations, broad in design, and at intervals strongly dramatic; on the whole, however, distinguished more for ingenuity of design and execution than for spontaneity of melodic conception, and for clearness, directness and unimpeded evolution of structural purpose that proclaim the supreme master of the situation. At the same time, it does contain very many episodes of lovely tonal quality, of unaffected emotion, and of equally genuine heroic emphasis.

It is superbly scored, with a fuller instrumental body than Saint-Saëns was accustomed to employ. Following the stimulating lead of Berlioz, and profiting by the acquisitions of the intervening years, Saint-Saëns contributed in no small measure to the eloquence and vividness of the orchestra. To the ordinary full score he here adds the organ and the piano---the latter in one place for four hands.

The Symphony comprises the usual four Movements, in their conventional order; but the first two, and again the last two, are connected, so that the work as a whole is presented in two large Divisions.

The first Movement opens with a brief Introduction (Adagio). The principal Theme thereupon follows is carried through the entire Symphony, in an almost incredible variety of rhythmic forms. The design of the first Movement is sonata-allegro, regular, and clear. The subordinate Theme is easily recognizable.

The second (slow) Movement, connected with the first, as above stated, is a lyric tone-picture of great melodic and harmonic beauty, warmth and dignity. The form is First-Rondo. The subordinate Theme is short, in effect only an Interlude, developed out of the chief motive of the first Movement.

The third Movement is a Scherzo, with Trio; spirited, ingenious, and extremely effective.

An elaborate and lengthy Transition of six Sections, leads from the Scherzo over into the Finale; and the latter continues the free, in a sense capricious, sectional formation, which functions as an Introduction embracing three Sections (based mainly upon the principal motive of the first Movement) before the actual Allegro begins---with a fugato upon this same motive. Hence, the first and last Movements of the Symphony have the same principal Theme, only differing in mode (minor and major respectively), in rhythm, and in tempo.

The subordinate Theme, however, is new, most attractive, and affords an admirable contrast. To this a Codetta is added in G, upon exactly the same melodic motive. The design of the Finale is sonata-allegro; slightly irregular, inasmuch as the Recapitulation begins with the Second Part of the principal Theme---omitting the so vitally essential First Part (actual identifying "beginning") of the Theme.


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