18 Oct 2017



Camille Saint-Saëns: 1835-1921

“The closest France has come to producing another Mozart” – composer Gabriel Fauré, speaking of Camille Saint-Saëns.

“Known as the ‘French Mendelssohn’, Saint-Saëns wrote music that appealed to audiences for its clarity of texture and its attractive powers of invention – music designed to delight rather than to shock.” – Keith Anderson


Beyond his success as a composer, Saint-Saëns was a prolific writer and produced poems, a play, critical essays, and works on science, astronomy, travel and history. He was also interested in mathematics and geology, and was good at languages.

  • Born: Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, October 9, 1835 in Paris, France
  • Father: Jacques Joseph Victor Saint-Saëns. Died when Camille was 2 months old. Worked as a government clerk.
  • Mother: Clémence Françoise Collin. Watercolor artist.
  • Aunt: Charlotte Masson. Helped bring up Camille. She was his first piano teacher.
  • Siblings: None.
  • Wife: married 19-year-old Marie-Laure Truffot in 1875. Marriage lasted just 6 years.
  • Children: two sons, André and Jean-François. The two died in 1878 within six weeks of each other, one from illness and the other from falling out of a fourth floor window.
  • Died: December 16, 1921 in Algiers, Algeria.
  • Cause of Death: pneumonia
  • Grave: Body returned to France for a state funeral. Buried in Montparnasse cemetary.


  • 13 operas
  • 5 symphonies
  • 3 violin concerti
  • 5 piano concerti
  • 2 cello concerti
  • Organ music
  • Numerous pieces for solo piano
  • About 100 songs
  • Chamber music
  • Sacred music (including a requiem)
  • Numerous transcriptions (Bach especially)
    • Most famous work: Carnival of the Animals (he forbade the performance of this work during his lifetime, except for the movement “The Swan”)
    • Best-known symphony: No. 3, “Organ”
    • Samson et Dalila is his only remembered opera.


  • Age 2.5: Began piano lessons with his aunt
  • Age 7: Studied composition with Pierre Madelin
  • Age 10: Gave his first concert, playing Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto and Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 460
  • Age 13: Entered the Paris Conservatory to study Organ and composition.
  • Age 15: Wrote his first symphony
  • Age 18-41: Organist in various churches, including the prestigious Church of the Madeleine.
  • During his 20s: Admired by legendary composers Berlioz, Liszt, Gunoud and Rossini
  • Age 26-30: teacher at École Niedermeyer. Fauré was a student.
  • Age 36: Founded Société Nationale de Musique to promote French music.
  • Age 39: Wrote Danse Macabre
  • Age 40: Married 19-year-old Marie Truffot and had two children.
  • Age 46: Left his wife, blaming her carelessness for the deaths of their children.
  • Age 51: Wrote Carnival of the Animals while on holiday, to entertain some children.
  • Age 53: His mother died and he became severely depressed, contemplating suicide. He began to travel more, with his dogs and a servant. He traveled to Russia, Britain, South America, and the USA. He was most fond of traveling to Egypt and Algeria.
  • Age 71/74: Highly successful tours of the United States as a conductor and a pianist.
  • Age 86: Died of pneumonia in Algeria. Was returned to France for a state funeral.

“I produce music as an apple tree produces apples” – Camille Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns works being performed for the first time in Utah Symphony history:

  • Symphony No. 2
  • Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après La Foi
  • Symphony in F major, Urbs Roma
  • Symphony No. 1

MASTERWORKS #2 – Sept. 22 &amp 23

Thierry Fischer conducting

  • Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Opus 55 (1859)
  • Saint-Saëns was 24 years old when he composed this work, and it was actually his 4th of 5 symphonies (despite the name).
  • Modestly scored (no harps or trombones)

MASTERWORKS #4 – Nov. 3 & 4

Matthias Pintscher conducting

  • Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Opus 28 (1863) with William Hagen, violin
  • This work was composed for Pablo de Sarasate, and the popularity of this great miniature for violin and orchestra has never dimmed.
  • (Not part of Hyperion recording project)

MASTERWORKS #7 – Dec. 1 & 2

First of two Saint-Saëns Festival weeks

  • Danse Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila, Opus 47 (1877)
    • A wild Bacchanale from Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila, enriched with tambourine, castanets and a slithering oboe solo, all used to brilliantly depict a near-east atmosphere.
  • Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après La Foi, Opus 130 (1908)
    • According to playwright and critic Bernard Shaw:“After the death of Ibsen, Eugène Brieux (1858-1932) confronted Europe as the most important dramatist west of Russia.” “The greatest writer France has produced since Molière”“Breiux’s play La Foi (Faith) shows how truth is terrible to men, and how false religions are a necessity to them.”
  • Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Opus 78, “Organ” (1886)
    • Saint-Saëns dedicated the Organ Symphony, published in 1886, to Franz Liszt, who died in July of that same year.
    • Of composing this work, Saint-Saëns said, “I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.”
    • The organ introduces the final part of the symphony, which includes a fugue, a chorale, and a pastoral interlude before the massive climax.
    • The organ symphony is formed in two large sections, with the formal four-movement symphonic form embedded within.
    • In the movie Babe, one of the melodies of the fourth movement is turned into a song.
      • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XEjStkp2LY

MASTERWORKS #8 – Dec. 8 & 9

Second of two Saint-Saëns Festival weeks

  • Symphony in F major, Urbs Roma (1856)
    • It appears that the title “Urbs Roma” (for the F major Symphony) was to comply with the rules of submitting music for a performance competition.
    • The four-movement symphony, composed when Saint-Saëns was 21 years old, has a serious and slow opening. The second movement is a scherzo, followed by a somber funeral march third movement. The fourth movement offers a theme and multiple variations.
    • Saint-Saëns won the competition with his “Urbs Roma” Symphony, but it remained unpublished in his lifetime.
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Opus 22 (1868) with Louis Lortie, piano (not recorded for Hyperion)
    • The Second is the most popular of Saint-Saëns’ five piano concerti. Opening with a Bach-inspired piano improvisation and finishing with a whirling Tarantella finale, this concerto gained a famous witticism: “It begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach.”
  • Carnival of the Animals (1886)

MASTERWORKS #12 – Feb. 23 & 24

  • Danse macabre, Opus 40 (1874)
    • Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre draws its program from a poem by Henri Cazalis:
      Zig and zig and zag, Death in time
      Knocking a tomb with his heel,
      Death at midnight plays a dance tune,
      Zig and zig and zag on his violin.
      The winter wind blows and the night is dark,
      Groans come from the lime-trees:
      The white skeletons go through the darkness,
      Running and leaping under their great shrouds.
      Zig and zig and zag, each jigs about
      And the knocking of their bones is heard.
      But psst! Suddenly they leave off the dance,
      They push, they flee, the cock has crowed.
  • Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, Opus 2 (1852)
    • To avoid rejection of a first performance, the 17-year-old Saint-Saëns (and a conductor colleague) submitted Symphony No. 1 anonymously. Was this the work of a German composer perhaps?
    • The final movement of Symphony No. 1 was written for enlarged orchestra, including two saxhorns (euphonium or bass tuba) to introduce a Wagnerian march, a fugue, and a triumphant conclusion.

MASTERWORKS #13 – Mar. 2 & 3

Symphony in A major (1850)

  • Saint-Saëns completed this, his first symphony, at 15 years old.
  • The four-note motif from Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony appears in the first movement of this symphony.
  • The fourth movement finale is rapid and shows the influence of Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Saint-Saëns Recording Project with Hyperion Records

CD #1: Comprised entirely of works from Masterworks #7 in early December.

  • Trois tableaux symphoniques d’après La foi
  • Danse Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila
  • Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Opus 78, “Organ”

Total timing: approximately 74 minutes

CD #2: To include works recorded in September, December and February from Masterworks #2, #8, and #12.

  • Symphony in F major, Urbs Roma
  • Danse macabre, Opus 40
  • Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Opus 55

Total timing: approximately 72 minutes

CD #3: To include works recorded in December and February from Masterworks #8, #12, and #13.

  • Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, Opus 2
  • Carnival of the Animals
  • Symphony in A major

Total timing: approximately 78 minutes