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Saint-Saens

Category: Musician or composer

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns ( 9 October 1835 – 16 December 1921) was a French composer, organist, conductor, and pianist of the Romantic era. He is known especially for The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah (Opera), Piano Concerto No. 2, Cello Concerto No. 1, Havanaise, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and his Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony).

I have placed him in the musician category because it is this for which he is best known, but he had all the hallmarks of a genius.  From an early age, he studied geology, archaeology, botany, and lepidoptery. He was an expert at mathematics. Later, in addition to composing, performing, and writing musical criticism, he held discussions with Europe's finest scientists and wrote scholarly articles on acoustics, Roman theatre decoration, and ancient instruments.  He wrote poetry, beautiful poetry.  He wrote plays.  He was also a member of the Astronomical Society of France; he gave lectures on mirages, had a telescope made to his own specifications, and even planned concerts to correspond to astronomical events such as solar eclipses.

 

There is a belief that Saint-Saens was an atheist, but the observations I have will show him to be anything but.  He was fascinated by spirituality, but had no time for religion.  He wrote numerous articles on the ‘occult sciences’ and wrote a philosophical work, Problèmes et mystères, which spoke of science and art replacing religion.  He was a great friend of Camille Flammarion who was not only an eminent astronomer, but also an avid collector of spiritual experiences.  Flammarion collected thousands and thousands in his lifetime and published a number of books detailing them all - and Saint-Saens read every book Flammarion wrote on this subject.

Where did his inspiration come from?

Well he was born to be a genius, but I have also found one or two papers that say he was left handed.  In effect he was a right brained mathematically gifted musician.

 

Saint-Saëns was born in Paris. His father, a government clerk, died three months after his birth. He was raised by his mother, Clémence, with the assistance of her aunt, Charlotte Masson, who moved in. So he also benefited from home schooling,  Masson introduced Saint-Saëns to the piano, and began giving him lessons on the instrument. At about this time, age two, Saint-Saëns was found to possess perfect pitch.

His first composition, a little piece for the piano dated 22 March 1839, is now kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Saint-Saëns's precocity was not limited to music. He learned to read and write by the age of three, and had some mastery of Latin by the age of seven. 

His first public concert appearance occurred when he was five years old, when he accompanied a Beethoven violin sonata.  At ten years of age, Saint-Saëns gave his debut public recital at the Salle Pleyel. As an encore, Saint-Saëns offered to play any of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas from memory.  At the age of sixteen, Saint-Saëns wrote his first symphony; his second, published as Symphony No. 1 in E-flat major, was performed in 1853 to the astonishment of many critics and fellow composers.

Marie Laure Emile Truffot

In 1857, he replaced Lefébure-Wely at the eminent position of organist at the Église de la Madeleine, which he kept until 1877. Liszt said that Saint-Saëns was the greatest organist in the world. He also composed his famous piece Danse Macabre at this time.

In 1870, the Franco-Prussian War, in spite of lasting less than 10 months, left an indelible mark on the composer. His Requiem, a beautiful piece of music and one for which I have an observation was composed during the war. 

In 1875, nearing forty, Saint-Saëns married Marie Laure Emile Truffot, who was just 19. They had two sons, both of whom died in 1878, within six weeks of each other, one from an illness, the other upon falling out of a fourth-story window (as the composer, approaching his house, watched). For the later death Saint-Saëns blamed his wife, and when they went on vacation together in 1881 he simply disappeared one day. A separation order was enacted, but they never divorced.  So we also have Grief as a driver.

In 1886 Saint-Saëns produced two of his most renowned compositions: The Carnival of the Animals and Symphony No. 3, dedicated to Franz Liszt, who died that year. Two years later, Saint-Saëns's mother died, driving the mourning composer away from France to the Canary Islands under the alias "Sannois". Over the next several years he travelled around the world, visiting exotic locations in Europe, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Saint-Saëns chronicled his travels in many popular books using his nom de plume, Sannois.

 

Saint-Saëns continued to write on musical, scientific and historical topics, travelling frequently before spending his last years in Algiers. He was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 1868; and eventually, in 1913, he attained France's highest award, the Grand-Croix de la Légion d'honneur.

Saint-Saëns died of pneumonia on 16 December 1921 at the Hôtel de l'Oasis in Algiers. His body was repatriated to Paris, honoured by state funeral at La Madeleine, and interred at Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

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