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Camille Saint-Saens

March 28, 2014
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Camille Saint-Saens was born in Paris,France in 1835.  At the age of 5 years old Saint-Saens showed so much interest and talent in music that his great-aunt began to teach him the piano.  He progressed quickly; at 6 years old he began to compose music, and when 11 years old he gave his first public performance where he played a Mozart and a Beethoven piano concerto.

Camille entered the Paris Conservatory as a student where he studied organ and composition.  He became an organ virtuoso and was well-known for his skills as a sight-reader and an improviser.  Saint-Saens began his professional career as a church organist at St. Merry in Paris, in 1853.  And in 1858 he became the organist at the Madeleine, also in Paris.

Saint-Saens was a prolific composer, a music teacher, performer, and writer.  In composition there was hardly any area of music that he ignored.  He composed chamber music, orchestral music, piano and organ works; vocal songs and opera; symphonic poems; and so forth.  His style of composition has at times been classified as the French Mendelssohn style because of its clarity and richness.  Among the pupils Saint-Saens taught are the notable composers Faure and Messager.  Saint-Saens gave concerts as a pianist, as an organist, and as a conductor.   Even late into his life he continued to give concerts; at the age of 80 years old he toured theUnited States!  Saint-Saens also wrote 12 books in the course of his lifetime, mostly essays about music and musicians, but also of poetry.

Of Saint-Saens’ enormous compositional output, his most popularly performed works today include the first of his two cello concertos, the second of his five piano concertos, the symphonic poems, and his third and last symphonies.  But, ironically Saint-Saens is perhaps most remembered for his satirical setting of Carnival des animaux, known as “The Carnival of the Animals.”  During his lifetime Saint-Saens would not allow this musical work to be published.  He intended them to be a series of musical satires (which means a piece of music used to make fun of a situation, often political in nature).  But after his death this work was published and has become a much loved, and often performed, piece.

Saint-Saens was France’s leading musician for nearly 70 years.  He was admired by his contemporaries (those who lived at the same time as him) and is continued to be loved and appreciated today.  Saint-Saens passed from this mortal life in 1921 at the age of 86.

Here is a lovely performance of “The Carnival of the Animals.”

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Gillespie, John. Five Centuries of Keyboard Music: An Historical Survey of Music for Harpsichord and Piano. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1966.

Lloyd, Norman. The Golden Encyclopedia of Music. New York: Golden Press, 1968.

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