Saint-Saëns’ “The Carnival of the Animals”: A Zoological Romp

In February of 1886, Camille Saint-Saëns set aside work on his Third Symphony to engage in a brief burst of compositional frivolity. He admitted to his publishers that it was “such fun” he could not resist. The piece in question was The Carnival of the Animals, a humorous musical suite made up of fourteen short, parody-filled movements. Each movement depicts a specific animal and has inspired numerous texts, which include poetry written by …

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Saint-Saëns’ Second Symphony: Adventures in Form

Camille Saint-Saëns was 24 years old when, during the summer of 1859, he composed Symphony No. 2 in A minor. It is a work which is both youthful and convention-defying. Intimate and compact, this music is far removed from the monumental grandeur of the “Organ Symphony,” which Saint-Saëns wrote some thirty years later. It bends symphonic form in surprising and adventurous ways. The first movement (Allegro marcato – Allegro appassionato) begins with …

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Saint-Saëns’ First Violin Sonata: The Hippogriff Takes Flight

Turbulent, expansive, heroic, and boldly virtuosic, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor seems to take flight, like a mythical creature. Completed in 1885, the Sonata is set in four movements which are grouped in two sections. The first two and the last two movements flow together, attacca, with the only break coming in the middle of the work. This sets up the same kind of continuous musical journey we …

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Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony, “With Organ”: Scaling the Summit

Following the completion of his Third Symphony in 1886, Camille Saint-Saëns made the following statement: I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again. Indeed, Symphony No. 3 in C minor takes us on an extraordinary dramatic journey which scales a mighty summit. It augments the sound world of the traditional orchestra with the addition of piano (four hands) and organ. …

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Saint-Saëns’ Second Piano Trio: Pristine French Brushstrokes

“Wagnermania” swept through Paris in the 1880s. In the years following Wagner’s death in 1883, his influence loomed large among French artists, writers, and composers, fueling a powerful intellectual and artistic movement. French composers made pilgrimages to Bayreuth to hear Wagner’s operas and wrote vivid accounts of their transcendental experiences. Camille Saint-Saëns, who founded the Société Nationale de Musique in 1871 with the purpose of promoting French instrumental music, observed with more …

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Remembering Ivry Gitlis

Ivry Gitlis, the legendary Israeli violinist, has passed away. He was 98. Born in Haifa, Palestine to Russian-Jewish parents, Gitlis began playing the violin at the age of five. His teacher, Elisheva Velikovsky, had been a student of the German violinist, Adolph Busch. (About the same time, a  young Zvi Zeitlin studied with Velikovsky). Later, Gitlis studied with Mira Ben-Ami (a student of Joseph Szigeti). The influential violinist Bronisław Huberman opened doors …

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Saint-Saëns’ Most Seductive Aria: An Excerpt from “Samson and Delilah”

My heart opens to your voice like the flowers open to the kisses of the dawn. With these alluring lines, Delilah attempts to seduce Samson with the goal of tricking him into revealing the secret of his strength. Danger and betrayal mix with sensuality in this famous mezzo-soprano aria, Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix, from the second act of Camille Saint-Saëns’ 1877 opera, Samson and Delilah. Delilah’s trap is a deceitful attempt to lure Samson …

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