Camille Saint-Saens (Composer)|
Showing Mozartian precocity as both a pianist and composer, he had childhood lessons with Stamaty and Boely before entering the Conservatoire (1848), where Halevy was his teacher; his dazzling gifts early won him the admiration of Gounod, Rossini, Berlioz and especially Liszt, who hailed him as the world‘s greatest organist. He was organist at the Madeleine, 1857-75, and a teacher at the Ecole Niedermeyer, 1861-5, where Faure was among his devoted pupils. With only these professional appointments, he pursued a range of other activities, organizing concerts of Liszt‘s symphonic poems (then a novelty), reviving interest in older music (notably of Bach, Handel and Rameau), writing on musical, scientific and historical topics, travelling often and widely (in Europe, North Africa and South America) and composing prolifically; on behalf of new French music he co-founded the Societe Nationale de Musique (1871). A virtuoso pianist, he excelled in Mozart and was praised for the purity and grace of his playing. Similarly French characteristics of his conservative musical style - neat proportions, clarity, polished expression, elegant line - reside in his best compositions, the classically orientated sonatas (especially the first each for violin and cello), chamber music (Piano Quartet op.41), symphonies (no.3, the ‘Organ‘ Symphony, 1886) and concertos (no.4 for piano, no.3 for violin). He also wrote ‘exotic‘, descriptive or dramatic works, including four symphonic poems, in a style influenced by Liszt, using thematic transformation, and 13 operas, of which only Samson et Dalila (1877), with its sound structures, clear declamation and strongly appealing scenes, has held the stage. Le carnaval des animaux (1886) is a witty frolic; he forbade performances in his lifetime, ‘Le cygne‘ apart. From the mid-1890s he adopted a more austere style, emphasizing the classical aspect of his aesthetic which, perhaps more than the music itself influenced Faure and Ravel.