About this Recording
8.572751 - SAINT-SAENS, C.: Violin and Piano Music, Vol. 2 (Clamagirand, V. Cohen)
English  French 

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921)
Music for Violin and Piano • 2


Like Mozart and Mendelssohn, Camille Saint-Saëns demonstrated remarkable precocity as a child, first shown in piano lessons from his great-aunt at the age of two and a half. He coupled with his musical interests a wide general enthusiasm for learning of all kinds, literary and scientific, and was, as a composer, to produce music of many genres during a career that spanned the second half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, starting in a period that knew Mendelssohn and continuing beyond the death of Debussy.

Saint-Saëns was born in Paris in 1835, the son of a clerk in the government service, who died shortly after the birth of his only child. He was cared for by his mother and her adoptive aunt, whose husband had recently died. It was she who gave him his first piano lessons. Thereafter he studied with Camille Stamaty, a pupil of Kalkbrenner and of Mendelssohn, and appeared in public concerts as a child, having, by the age of ten, memorised all the Beethoven piano sonatas. At the same time he showed an aptitude for and interest in a great variety of subjects. In 1848 he entered the Conservatoire, studying the organ with Benoist and composition with Halévy, and continuing to show his gifts as a pianist, organist and composer. His intellectual curiosity led him to espouse the cause of contemporary music, as well as the revival of music by earlier composers.

A member of the circle of Pauline Viardot, a valued friend, Saint-Saëns taught briefly at the newly established Ecole Niedermeyer, where his pupils included Gabriel Fauré, a musician with whom he established a close relationship. In 1871, after the disasters of the Franco-Prussian war, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Société Nationale de Musique, with its aim of propagating French music, Ars Gallica. His great-aunt died in 1872 and three years later he contracted a marriage that came to an abrupt end six years later, after the earlier death of his two sons. The death of his mother in 1888 left him alone and he spent much of his later life travelling, accompanied by his dog and a loyal manservant. By the time of his own death in Algeria in 1921 he had to some extent outlived his reputation at home. In France this was the age now of Les Six. Debussy was dead, Fauré was near the end of his life, and Stravinsky had already, some eight years earlier, scandalized Paris with his Rite of Spring. Saint-Saëns continued to compose, although Ravel unkindly suggested that in war-time he might have been more productively employed. Abroad he retained something more of his earlier fame. Once known as the French Mendelssohn, he had written music that appealed to audiences in much the same way as his predecessor’s, for its clarity of texture and its attractive powers of invention, calculated to delight rather than to shock.

Saint-Saëns wrote his Suite for cello and piano, Op 16, a work he later adapted for cello and orchestra, in 1862. It was published with an alternative instrumentation for violin and piano and was dedicated to the cellist Henry-Marie-Joseph Poëncet. The opening D minor Prélude makes contemporary use of an idiom familiar from Bach’s Cello Suites, lightly accompanied by the piano. This is followed by a G minor Sérénade, with a fleeting suggestion of Spain in its melodies and texture. The E flat major Scherzo has the lilt of a waltz, growing in intensity, before proceeding to the equivalent of a calmer trio section. There is a shift to E major for the reflective Romance, which moves forward into music of greater intensity, before the piano brings back the principal theme, after a brief passage of violin recitative. The Finale starts with an imposing introductory section, leading to a fugue, its subject announced by the violin. The movement, a demonstration of the composer’s contrapuntal skill, makes use of elements of the introduction, leading eventually to a return of the Bach-derived D minor figuration of the opening movement, capped by a brilliant D major conclusion.

The Romance in C major, Op 48, originally for violin and orchestra, was written in 1874 and dedicated to Alfred Turban, leader of the orchestra of the Opéra. The gracious principal melody is heard at the outset, leading to a passage of rapider figuration, marked animato. The theme returns again, followed by a cadenza. The animato is heard again, before the final appearance of the principal melody.

A Violin Sonata of 1842 is testimony, at the least, to the precocity of Saint-Saëns. Many years later he recalled playing the piece through with the young Belgian violinist Antoine Bessems, whose kindness, Saint-Saëns later suggested, might have been motivated by matrimonial intentions towards the young composer’s widowed mother. His second attempt at a sonata for violin and piano, which remained unfinished, was in about 1850, when the composer was fifteen. It consists of two movements, the first in F major, with a tempo indication only on the violin part. The second movement, in A minor, is incomplete. These two movements are included in the present recording.

Méditation, based on the sixth of the piano Bagatelles, Op 3, of 1855, was arranged and published in 1892. It was dedicated to Marie Guillemin, a proficient amateur violinist and wife of the mayor of Algiers. The piece opens with a G minor introduction, the piano chords followed by passages of free recitative for the violin. This leads to a G major Adagio that reflects the title of the arrangement.

Written in 1896 during a winter visit to Egypt, the Violin Sonata No 2 in E flat major was dedicated to the violinist Léon-Alexandre Carembat and his wife, who gave the first performance the following year at the Salle Pleyel. The broadly classical first movement is dominated by a short rhythmic figure that plays a significant part in this first subject. The Scherzo follows, with an A flat major trio section and moments of contrapuntal interest. The B major slow movement breathes tranquillity, the violin melody accompanied largely by the slowly ascending scale of the piano. The mood changes with the interruption of a scherzando passage, but eventually the Andante returns, with the theme finally reaching its home key. The lighthearted final movement has a graceful principal theme that returns after episodes of relative relaxation and contrasting tonality.

Le Carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals), a jeu d’esprit of 1886, written after a controversial concert tour of Germany, was intended for the cellist Charles Lebouc, at one of whose private Shrove Tuesday concerts it was first heard. Its popularity might have diminished the reputation of Saint-Saëns, who was reluctant to allow its publication. The exception to this embargo was Le cygne (The Swan), written originally for the cello but now familiar in a wide variety of arrangements and inextricably identified with Pavlova and the poignant dance of the dying swan created for her by Fokine in 1907. It was transcribed for violin and piano by the composer.

Keith Anderson

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