October 9, 1835 - Paris (France) — December 16, 1926 - Algiers (Algeria)
Camille Saint-Saëns, the prodigy
Camille Saint-Saëns was in every way an exceptionally gifted child. He possessed extraordinary pianistic ease and a phenomenal musical memory. He composed at the age of five, gave his first concert at the Salle Pleyel at eleven and at thirteen he was taught composition by Halévy at the Paris Conservatoire. His talents stunned Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz and Pauline Viardot and from 1870 onwards, his tuition was in great demand. Gabriel Fauré, Messager and Gigout were to be his pupils at the Niedermeyer School.
Classicism in Saint-Saëns's work
A fervent advocate of French art, Camille Saint-Saëns founded the National Society of Music in 1871, which provided the opportunity for young French composers, like Ravel and Debussy, to have their music played. Although his career as a pianist and teacher hampered his composition, Saint-Saëns nevertheless left considerable works of radiant classicism, as he preferred Mozart’s clarity to the mists of Wagner.
Camille Saint-Saëns’ rigorous musical language is founded on formal balance, a knowledge of Germanic polyphony and a very Romantic virtuosity. His third symphony is renowned for its elegance and his Carnival of Animals still regularly performed in concert halls. As for his piano concertos, they are prized by pianists for their beauty, precision and the sparkling evidence of the instrumental writing. As opposed to his contemporaries Gabriel Fauré, Johannes Brahms or Anton Bruckner, Saint-Saëns’ style is not easily recognisable. Hector Berlioz was no doubt right when he asserted, “He knows everything, but he cruelly lacks experience”.