Camille Saint-Saëns - Commemorative Year

Camille Saint-Saëns: born on 9 October 1835 in Paris, eight and a half years after Beethoven’s death – died on 16 December 1921 in Algier, eight and a half years after the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Sacre du printemps“. A compositional oeuvre which encompasses approximately 700 works of all musical genres. There is hardly another renowned composer whose creative output spans a similarly long period of time and shows a comparable variety.

However, this long creative life overshadowed his posthumous fame: Time seemed to have passed Saint-Saëns by. “You praise the beauty, clarity and sincerity of my language and my thoughts”, he wrote in 1910 to Romain Rolland – “what more do I want? To be the future and not the past? I used to be the future; in my early days I was called a revolutionary – in my old age I can only be an ancestor. ”Even though many of Saint-Saëns‘s works – headed by “The Carnival of the Animals” – are well-established in the concert repertoire, the composer was long considered of marginal importance, even in his home country France. However, during the last 10 to 20 years this perspective has undergone a fundamental change; today – as we commemorate his death 100 years ago – there is no more doubt that Camille Saint-Saëns was one of the great composers of his time.

More than ever his music is being performed and recorded and with each re-discovery its richness and originality becomes more evident; the first film music, the first tango, the first work for saxophone quartet, the addition of the xylophone and celeste to the orchestra – an eclecticist? Not at all: In fact, Saint-Saëns was not only a “revolutionary“ in his early days, but he also inspired Maurice Ravel and the Groupe des Six. And something else becomes clearer today than ever before: Saint-Saëns was – like his mentor and friend Franz Liszt – a true European who always looked and worked beyond national borders. Thus it does not come as a surprise that his music is firmly anchored in the international repertoire – aided by the series “Œuvres instrumentales complètes“ (in 39 volumes), the opera Samson et Dalila and a number of important sacred works. Whoever engages with Saint-Saëns, will be drawn in by the “beauty, clarity and sincerity“ of his music.

Michael Stegemann