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He looks very much a figure of the Establishment (bearing an uncanny resemblance, despite the beard, to the former British Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington). Here he is at the greatest moment of fame, little dreaming that all too soon he was destined to become a footnote in French music, rather than the major chapter which he clearly thought his due. And somewhere in this expression of a grandee we can detect the heartbreak and sadness of a particularly lonely life. There is also a glint in the eye which suggests he is not to be trifled with: we would not dare to broach the subject of his private affairs with this touchy (and potentially vituperative) ma.
His many secrets are his own, and to this day no one knows the real Camille Saint- Sa. Perhaps as a result of this mask, fewer people today know his music.
Obsessive privacy has a way of translating into anonymity, a quality which seeps into the compositions, and can render them all too easy to neglect. Not that all of Saint- Sa. Who else could have written Le Carnaval des animaux, Samson et Dalila, and the Second Piano Concerto? And there is much else besides which is worthy of performance, including the songs on this disc which will hopefully add a further, if not radical, new dimension to the composer in the listener’s mind and ear. Mozart (to whom he was frequently compared) perhaps? But like Mozart, Saint- Sa.
He acquired very early a flawless command of musical ways and means, but his career as an adult, not to mention his personality, suffered as a result. When one thinks how famous he was as an old man at the turn of the Century, it is difficult to realise that after his glittering career as a child prodigy, his progress through the world of music was blighted for many years by indifference and misfortune. For a long time his works were regarded as outr. With dogged application he continued to compose, receiving the sort of bad notices which would have obliterated the confidence of a lesser man. But then there was something absolutely indomitable about Saint- Sa. He had almost nothing of Massenet’s endless wish to please; indeed there was a side of him which almost relished being at war with anyone and everyone, the musical establishment above all. For many years he was the spokesman of modernism, a voice in the wilderness composing symphonies and chamber music when the French, drunk on Meyerbeer, had no use for such things.
But in those years when ardent Wagnerism, and later Debussyism, seemed to be all the rage, he was as implacably opposed to the modems as he had been enthusiastically on their side earlier in his career. Indeed there seems to have been only a brief period at the end of the nineteenth century when his fame coincided with his reputation as an innovator. Even then the main musical agenda had already moved on, for by the 1. Saint- Sa. Little by little, and then with the speed of the Wall Street Crash, his reputation declined. Composers of Poulenc’s generation dismissed him as a ranting old reactionary, and this is more or less what he had become by as early as 1.
His posthumous reputation plummeted to such an extent that it has still not recovered. We await a new catalogue of Saint- Sa. Whether this will restore him to the level of adored master that he enjoyed at the turn of the century is doubtful, but it should provoke a major reassessment of one of the most interesting musical personalities of the time.
Who else could claim to have performed for the Citizen King, Louis- Philippe, at the Tuileries, and yet lived long enough to compose a chorus (Aux conqu. His father, Victor Saint- Sa. Despite her lowly background Mme Saint- Sa. Her aunt Charlotte Masson, who had moved in to help in the upbringing of the boy, gave him piano lessons from the age of two- and- a- half, and it was soon clear that young Camille had absolute pitch and musical gifts of a high order.
The composer remembered his fury at this age whenever he was taken away from the piano. His first composition was dated 2. March 1. 83. 9 when he was three years and five months old. The first song dates from May 1. Marceline Desbordes- Valmore entitled Le Soir (the composer was five- and- a- half years old).
This is a little ditty in A minor with a sparse but surprisingly effective accompaniment noted down in astonishingly sophisticated calligraphy. On the other hand he did not enjoy the freedoms of a normal boyhood; all his teachers carne to the house, and his thin build and pale complexion were signs not only of his generally frail health, but of a child raised in a hothouse. In 1. 84. 3 he was sent to study the piano with Camille Stamaty, pupil of Fr. By means of Kalkbrenner’s patented hand- guide, an adjustable horizontal rail parallel to the piano on which the forearm rested, Saint- Sa. These were astonishingly fleet (as we can hear on the few recordings he made as an old man), even if the playing was lacking in warmth of tone by the standards of the later nineteenth century. It seems to have been masterful and precise, almost free from extraneous rubato, the transparent jeu perl. On this disc, the song Tournoiement (track 1.
M. He made his d. It was received rapturously, and only then was its creator’s true identity revealed. Gounod, who had watched the young composer’s development for a number of years, wrote Saint- Sa. Rossini was also an admirer of Saint- Sa. Even at this early stage Saint- Sa. Even then people noticed that his facility masked his human vulnerability, that indefinable quality which gives to music an unmistakable provenance. The Revolutionary 1.
The E flat major Symphony was published in 1. Opus 2, the first work by Saint- Sa. In this year he also composed L’Attente (Hugo, track 4) which alongside Le pas d’armes du Roi Jean . A photograph from this period shows the composer to be a rather thin and sickly individual, a pale face hidden by an unimpressive beard, hardly the man- about- town and scarcely a convincing picture of a devout lover.
Another symphony (in F major this time) followed with the subtitle Urbs Roma. All through this period Saint- Sa. The latter post was the most important of its kind in Paris and earned the composer a handsome 3. Liszt himself pronounced Saint- Sa.
This position was also something of a social one, and to permit him to entertain luminaries in the appropriate manner the composer bought a new apartment in the Rue du Faubourg Saint- Honor. His weekly Monday salons became a celebrated part of the Parisian music scene. It was during this period that Saint- Sa. A special bond of friendship was formed between the sixteen- year- old pupil and the professor who, after all, was only a decade older. It was thanks to Saint- Sa.
The opening of the newly- built opera house of the Palais Garnier in 1. Second Empire. Gounod’s successes on the lyric stage were now the model to follow, not the heavy and ornate works of Meyerbeer which had adapted Italian bel canto to the plush French taste. Much of this new mood of optimism in the musical world was to do with the founding of the Soci. Also involved were the composers Alexis de Castillon, Henri Duparc, Saint- Sa. The motto of this organisation was . Of course there was still massive opposition to .
But this organisation was truly devoted to defending the home- grown music of France which had been so ignored. This was the period of Saint- Sa. These were not successful with the critics. Another major disappointment for the composer was that, despite the advocacy of the renowned mezzo soprano Pauline Viardot, he was unable to convince the director of the Op. A concert performance of the first act of this work met with critical hostility. In 1. 87. 2 the composer had lost the woman who had first brought him to music, his great aunt Charlotte.
He now lived alone with his mother, and up until 1. Madame Saint- Sa. It is all the more strange then that the composer should decide to marry a nineteen- year- old girl, Marie- Laure- . Nothing is known about the background to this marriage, or why, for example, the ceremony took place far from Paris. Why was it that the composer seemed anxious to avoid the publicity?
Was Madame Saint- Sa? In any case, within a short time the married couple was living under the same roof as Madame Saint- Sa. The composer’s mother was autocratic and exigent, and not only in personal matters; she seems to have remained Saint- Sa. Certainly there is no reason to suppose that she would have made an easy mother- in- law. The composer had two sons from this marriage (born in 1. In late May 1. 87. Paris. Six weeks later the second son perished as a result of pneumonia.
It seems that Saint- Sa. By 1. 88. 1 the marriage was at an end. The composer simply walked out on his spouse when they were on holiday together; he left her a note saying that he would not return, and moved back to his mother.
There is some parallel here with the behaviour of Paul Verlaine who had left his wife in a scandalous fashion a few years earlier, and whose choice of marriage partner had seemed peculiarly cavalier, quite apart from the fact that he was fundamentally unsuited to marriage. A great many first performances of new works were given at this time, almost all of them roundly damned by the Parisian critics.
In Weimar Samson et Dalila (in German translation of course) had a triumphant success under the auspices of Liszt. It is astonishing that this work, certainly the best- known of all Saint- Sa. He was also a respected scholar and editor, undertaking the preparation of a complete edition of Gluck’s works. Gradually the tide of public opinion in France began to turn in favour of Saint- Sa. If at long last he was no longer a prophet unappreciated in his own land, the troubling tide of modernity was beginning to wash over the composer just at the moment that his own music was being seriously countenanced by the French public.
From now on, and increasingly, he began to have reservations about the Wagnerian passions of his younger colleagues. The Celebrity 1. 88.