Richard Nisley


Short and Sweet–the music of Camille Saint-Saëns
Music - Classical Released - Aug 17, 2018
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Or, as the French say it, “Cah-me Sey-Sahns.” Without question, one of the world’s great composers. "Sonic spectacular" is the word for his Third Symphony, a.k.a. “The Organ Symphony.” Recording engineers go out of their way to make the sound of this symphony as big as possible, to the point of moving the organ to another building to record separately at maximum levers, and later remix as a whole. Talk about Wall of Sound–Phil Specter would be impressed.

Compared with other world-class composers, Saint-Saëns output is modest. You might say, it was short and sweet. Born in the 19th century, he was a man of his age, which is to say he fits comfortably among the great romantic composers—Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner. Indeed, he composed music with sweeping melodies and grand themes. Curiously, his symphonies, such as No.3, which makes prominent use of piano and organ, sound more like concertos than symphonies. Unlike most symphonies, his "Organ Symphony" is comprised of two movements and not the usual four, as is the norm with classic Beethoven and Mozart. He also wrote two world-class concertos, one for piano ("Piano concerto no. 2 in G minor" is the famous one), and one for cello ("Cello concerto in A minor").

As great (or grand) as Saint-Saëns' third symphony is, his shorter works have captured most of the world’s attention, particularly his tone poems. Most famous of all is “Carnival of the Animals” a piece he thought so little of he discarded it. It’s a clever musical suite he wrote as an amusement for his friends. Fortunately, it was retrieved by one of his friends who turned it over to Saint-Saëns’ publisher. Much later the wry American poet Ogden Nash added light-hearted verse and the piece gained a new and appreciative audience. Another popular work is “Danse Macabre” a quirky piece often associated with Halloween. He wrote one opera: "Samson and Dalila," which is performed regularly throughout the world to this day.

Saint-Saëns composed his share of Chamber Music, the most famous is: “Piano Quartet in B-flat” and “Septet in E-flat for Piano, Trumpet and Strings.” He also scored pages of music for "his" instrument–the organ.

Compared with his German contemporaries, the compositional output of Camille Saint-Saëns was modest. You might say his body of work was short and sweet. On the list of great composers Camille Saint-Saëns ranks comfortably at no. 27. Not so high as to invite the criticism of being overrated, and not so low as to be ignored.

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