Union Jack

     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

Previous Part 1835 - 1878

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS
a dramatized life by Shaun MacLoughlin

Part 2    1878 - 1921

Click on the youtubes to hear excerpts of the music

(INTRODUCE MON COEUR S'OUVRE A TA VOIX FROM SAMSON AND DELILAH AND TAKE UNDER)
NARRATOR: This dark period in his life during the death of his sons produced some of his most popular works, including Danse macabre (1875) and his opera Samson and Delilah (1878).

(BRING UP MON COEUR S'OUVRE A TA VOIX FROM SAMSON AND DELILAH AND TAKE DOWN AGAIN)
SAINT-SAËNS:

Samson and Delilah
Softly Awakes My Heart sung by Maria Callas
Samson and Delilah
Delilah cutting Sansom's hair
During all these tribulations I was preparing Samson and Delilah, although I could find no one who even wanted to hear me speak of it. They all thought that I must be mad to attempt a Biblical subject.

I gave a hearing of the second act at my house, but no one understood it at all. Without the aid of Liszt, who did not know a note of it, but who engaged me to finish it and put it on at Weimar, Samson would never have seen the light.
NARRATOR: Thus the opera's premiere was sung in German and met with resounding success. It did not receive its Paris premiere until 1890 and was performed at The Royal Opera House, London in 1893 after the Lord Chamberlain removed the ban on adapting opera from Bible stories. It was first mounted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1895. The New York Times was to write:
NEW YORK TIMES: Camille Saint-Saëns Is Enthusiastic Over America; Famous Composer Agreeably Surprised Here, Where Woman Reigns and Good Taste Prevails and the Fine Arts Flourish Everywhere.
SAINT-SAËNS:
New York 1890's
New York in the 1890's
Travellers had pictured to me a busy, nervous conglomeratlon of people, something like an exasperated England. The Hudson, that great river lined with enormous, many-decked ships, appeared to me very beautiful. Yet where beauty of form is lacking, force and vitality are still more striking. At night, when the windows gleam from incredible heights, when electric fires cast their rays on every side, a fantastic and marvellous spectacle is presented. But remember that New York possesses a beautiful and vast park, where gray squirrels gambol in freedom and come gently to solicit alms in the shade of an almond or hazelnut.

The people seem to me much more tranquil than the agitated inhabitants of certain northern towns. I found them courteous, receptive. and sympathetic. But then why should not one be happy in a country where all the women are charming?

(BRING UP MON COEUR S'OUVRE A TA VOIX FROM SAMSON AND DELILAH AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR

He also praised the English and their musical prowess. In his book Harmonie et Mélodie he wrote:
SAINT-SAËNS: I wish those who believe the English to be devoid of feeling for music could hear the Birmingham singers. Accuracy, precision in time and rhythm, delicacy in light and shade, charm in sonority. This wonderful choir combines everything.

(INTRODUCE O BEAUX REVES FROM ETIENNE MARCEL AND TAKE UNDER)
BROOK:








SAINT-SAËNS:

O beaux reves évanouis! from Etienne Marcel
Queen Victoria and Princess Beatrice
Queen Victoria
and Princess Beatrice
During one of many visits to England at he was presented to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle. He had been warned that the Queen's great dignity often gave the impression of coldness, and was therefore surprised when Her Majesty came into the room with both hands extended to greet him.

Her Majesty wanted to hear me play. I had the honour of accompanying the Princess Beatrice as she sang an aria from my opera, Etienne Marcel. Her Royal Highness sang with great clearness and distinctness, but it was the first time she had sung before her august mother, and she was frightened almost to death.

The Queen was so delighted that some days later, without my being told of it, she summoned to Windsor Madame Gye, wife of the manager of Covent Garden - the famous singer Albani - to ask to have Etienne Marcel staged at her own theatre.

(BRING UP O BEAUX REVES FROM ETIENNE MARCEL AND PLAY OUT)
BROOK:

The composer's interest in England inspired him to base his next opera on Henry VIII.

(INTRODUCE HENRY VIII, ACT III, THE SYNOD AND PLAY UNDER)
NARRATOR: Saint-Saëns most successful opera, after Samson et Dalila, centres on the period of Henry's life where his political ambitions and his defiance of Rome intertwine with his rejection of Catherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
BROOK:

Henry VIII, Act III, the Synod
Henry VIII at Compeigne'
     align=
Henry VIII production at Compeigne
Saint-Saëns' friendship with the music librarian at Buckingham Palace enabled him to study English music. In a collection of seventeenth century manuscripts of music for the harpsichord he found a very fine theme, which he employed to good effect in the opera.

While he was at work on this opera he was elected a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts, and at the same time was composing various other works, making concert tours, and leading a very full life. Rehearsals for Henry VIII began in the autumn of 1882, and by the time it was ready for the opening night, March 5th 1883, Saint-Saëns felt utterly exhausted and was obliged to take a complete rest, first at Algiers and then at Cauterets. He returned to Paris in the following October to find Henry VIII established in the repertoire of the Opera.

(BRING UP HENRY VIII, ACT III, THE SYNOD AND PLAY OUT)
NARRATOR:
Third (Organ) Symphony
In 1886 he composed his magnificent Third Symphony in C-minor for the Royal Philharmonic Society.

(INTRODUCE THE THIRD (ORGAN) SYMPHONY AND TAKE UNDER)

It was finished early in 1886, and the he came to London to direct its first performance. This great symphony, which uses an organ and four-hand piano as well as a full orchestra, was afterwards dedicated to the memory of his good friend Franz Liszt, who died in the same year.
SAINT-SAËNS: I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.
NARRATOR: Paul Serotsky has written:
PAUL SEROTSKY:
Franz Liszt'
     align=
Franz Liszt
What, then, is the nature of this beast? Most obviously, it is an elemental experience, a mind-bogglingly spectacular work that has a reputation for leaving audiences (and performers, for that matter) breathless in its wake. Less obviously it contains, like the Captain's cake in "Carry on Cruising", something from every port he ever visited. For example, it is filled with the "elegant lines, harmonious colours fine series of chords" that he felt should entirely satisfy any understanding artist. On the one hand it is conservative, built within a classical framework and drawing on the styles and methods of the past. Yet on the other it is revolutionary, bending those classical structures to his own ends and making extensive use of Liszt's idea of "thematic transformation".

(BRING UP THE THIRD (ORGAN) SYMPHONY AND TAKE OUT)
NARRATOR:

The Swan
It is believed that he had written his ever popular Carnival of the Animals with its beautiful melody The Swan in an Austrian village as early as 1866. It was the only one of the animals - supposedly based on characters that he knew - that he allowed to be published during his life-time.

(INTRODUCE THE SWAN AND PLAY UNDER)

It is often called The Dying Swan after a poem by Tennyson..

It inspired the ballerina, Anna Pavlova to work with choreographer Michel Fokine to create the famous 1905 solo ballet dance.

(WEAVE THE SWAN THROUGH TENNYSON'S POEM)
READER:
Franz Liszt'
     align=
Pavlova in costume
for the Dying Swan
Argentina 1928
The plain was grassy, wild and bare,
Wide, wild, and open to the air,
Which had built up everywhere
An under-roof of doleful gray.
With an inner voice the river ran,
Adown it floated a dying swan,
And loudly did lament.

(BRING UP THE SWAN AND TAKE DOWN AGAIN).

And the creeping mosses and clambering weeds,
And the willow-branches hoar and dank,
And the wavy swell of the soughing reeds,
And the wave-worn horns of the echoing bank,
And the silvery marish-flowers that throng
The desolate creeks and pools among,
Were flooded over with eddying song.

(BRING UP THE SWAN AND PLAY OUT)
BROOK: The life of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), the famous Italian sculptor, had always fascinated Saint-Saëns, so he decided to write an opera on this subject. It was called Ascanio, for Berlioz had already used the sculptor's name for the title of his opera.

(INTRODUCE AIRS DE BALLET D'ASCANI0 AND THEN PLAY UNDER)
NARRATOR:

Ballet Air for flute from Ascanio
The opera's French libretto, was based indirectly on the historical novel, Benvenuto Cellini, by Alexandre Dumas, père.

Benvenuto Cellini
Benvenuto Cellini's salt cellar
It describes how the Florentine sculptor, Cellini and apprentice Ascanio are both madly in love with Colombe. Two women are jealous: Scozzone, who is in love with Cellini, and the Duchess who is an admirer of Ascanio. Cellini steps aside to let Ascanio pursue Colombe. Realising that the jealousy of the two spurned women may prove dangerouse to the girl, he hides her in a reliquary he has designed for a local convent, and plans on having her taken there for safety. However, the Duchess uncovers this plan and has the reliquary diverted to her own estate, planning on letting the girl suffocate in it. However, Scozzone secretly took the place of Colombe when she regretted having been originally a part of the Duchess's plot.

Meanwhile, Cellini has asked the King to allow the wedding of Ascanio and Colombe as a reward for his latest artistic masterpiece.

(BRING UP AIRS DE BALLET D'ASCANI0 AND THEN PLAY OUT)
BROOK:






NARRATOR:



BROOK:






Africa, a Fantasia for piano and orchestra
Saint-Saens
Saint-Saëns
Painting by A. Rossi (1903)
At the opening night on March 31st 1890, the composer had disappeared. Enquirers were told that he had left Paris for an unknown destination. Eventually he was discovered in the Canary Islands.

His mother had died, driving the mourning composer away from France under the alias "Sannois".

He had been enjoying a complete rest incognito. As soon as his identity was discovered admirers swarmed around him, and there was nothing to do but to retum to Paris. But this holiday stirred in him a great desire to travel, and in the ensuing years he was frequently journeying to foreign parts. In the winter of 1891, for instance, he went as far afield as Ceylon, and while he was there revised his opera Proserpine.

(INTRODUCE AFRICA: A FANTASIA FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA AND THEN PLAY UNDER)

Returning through Egypt he found Cairo to be a very pleasant place for a lengthy sojourn, and wrote a musical picture of it: Africa, a Fantasia for piano and orchestra.
NARRATOR: Saint-Saëns collected much of the region's indigenous music, often transcribing themes on the spot. In this manner he absorbed both the materials and techniques of North African music, which he eventually employed in dozens of his own works. Africa is one of the very first works to be recorded with its composer in the role of soloist; a 1904 recording, with Saint-Saëns at the piano, still survives.

(BRING UP AFRICA: A FANTASIA FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA AND THEN PLAY OUT)
BROOK: During the nineties he was frequently in England. In June 1893 he went to Cambridge to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Music in the company of Tchaikovsky, who died later that year.

But one of his most pleasant recollections of the last decade of the nineteenth century was his second visit to Windsor Castle, where the great Queen received him. In his memoirs he writes:
SAINT-SAËNS:
Beziers Arena
Queen Victoria
and her Indian servants
Dinner was over, and princes in full uniform and princesses in elaborate evening dress stood about, waiting for her Majesty's appearance. I was heartbroken when I saw her enter, for she was almost carried by her Indian servants and obviously could not walk alone. But once seated at a small table, she was just as she had been before, with her wonderful charm, her simple manner and her musical voice. Only her white hair bore witness to the years that had passed. She asked me about Henry VIII, which was being given for the second time at Covent Garden, and I explained to her that in my desire to give the piece the local colour of its times I had been searching in the royal library at Buckingham Palace .... The Queen was much interested in music, and she appeared to be especially pleased in this.
BROOK:











NARRATOR:

Accompanying music from Déjanire
Before we leave the Nineteenth Century, mention must be made of the composer's visit to the Far East in 1895, when he toured through parts of China, and of the Jubilee concert given in his honour at the Salle Pleyel in Paris in 1896 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his first public appearance.

(INTRODUCE ACCOMPANYING MUSIC FROM DEJANIRE AND THEN WEAVE UNDER)

Of special interest, too, is the music he wrote for Déjanire, a tragedy by Louis Gallet.

Beziers Arena
Déjanire and Nessus
painting by Guido Reni
It is the story of Hercules, who has killed King Eurytus, and sacked the city of Oechalia with the intention of taking the king's beautiful daughter, Iole as his bride. The task of informing Iole of the impending marriage falls to Philoctetus, who is actually her lover. Iole confesses her love for Philoctetus to Hercules and must now marry him to save Philoctetus's life. Meanwhile, Phénice tries to convince Hercules's wife, Déjanire, to leave him forever. Instead, the desperate Déjanire tries in vain to win back her husband. When this fails, she decides to help Iole by giving her a tunic impregnated with the blood of Nessus. Before he died, Nessus had told Déjanire that his blood had magic powers to make the unfaithful return. What Déjanire does not know is that the blood is actually tainted with a terrible poison. Iole gives the tunic to Hercules on their wedding day. When he puts on the fatal gift, he is overcome by an excruciating burning pain. In agony he throws himself into the flames of the wedding pyre and dying ascends to Mount Olympus.

Beziers Arena
First representation of the play
Déjanire in the arena of Béziers (1898)
Castelbon, the owner of a newly constructed arena in Béziers (used primarily for staging bullfights), wanted to make Béziers a centre for the performance of open-air opera as well.

He persuaded Saint-Saëns to write the score for a performance of Louis Gallet's epic verse-drama Déjanire to inaugurate the project. At first Saint-Saëns was reluctant to have his music performed in what he called an "abominable temple of blood". However, Castelbon managed to convince him by inviting him to visit the arena where his arrival was greeted by hidden musicians playing in his honour.

In August 1898 Déjanire opened in Béziers with two performances before 12,000 spectators each time. The reception was ecstatic with Saint-Saëns conducting a huge musical ensemble consisting of a choir of hundreds, massed military bands and an orchestra that included 18 harps and an array of 25 trumpets. Although fatally ill and suffering from deafness, Louis Gallet managed to attend the second performance. In his memoirs Saint-Saëns recalled:
SAINT-SAËNS:
Beziers Arena
Louis Gallet
In spite of everything, including his ill health which made the trip very painful, he wanted to see his work once more.

He heard nothing, however - neither the artists, the choruses, nor even the applause of the several thousand spectators, who encored it enthusiastically.

A little later he passed on, leaving in his friends' hearts a void which it is impossible to fill.

(BRINGUP ACCOMPANYING MUSIC FROM DEJANIRE AND THEN TAKE OUT)
NARRATOR: At about this time the pianist and composer Frncesco Berger described Saint-Saëns as:
BERGER: A man of middle stature, square-set, with a finely chiselled nose, and a wonderful pair of alert, penetrating eyes. He has a remarkable speaking voice, loud and very shrill, and he utters so rapidly that it is difficult to follow him - his words flash from him like sparks from an anvil.
BROOK:





























MACKENZIE:
His encyclopaedic knowledge of many other subjects besides music and his remarkable wit made him a wonderful conversationalist, The impression of some that he was "cold" in the concert hall was derived erroneously from his very calm and collected attitude on the platform. His literary works include poetry. various books on music and musical matters generally. and even a few plays.

Palais d'Electricite Paris Exhibition 1900
Palais d'Eléctricité, Paris Exhibition 1900
His interest in everything around him is exemplified in his first work of the Twentieth Century: Le Feu Celeste, a Cantata in praise of electricity, which was produced at the Paris Exhibition in May 1900.

He was in London again in ]une 1913 to be present at a Jubilee Festival at the Queen's Hall to mark his seventy-five years of music from the lirst piano lesson he received from Madame Masson before his third birthday. With the exception of a Mozart Concerto, the entire programme was devoted to his own works, including the fine C-minor Symphony.

Mackenzie by Spy
Mackenzie by "Spy"
He received an album containing the signatures of a large number of British musical personalities, and an address was read by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music.

Amid the varied developments of modern music, you have worthily upheld the highest traditions of your national art. You have been the champion of its cause and carried its classic banner from triumph to triumph.

With 'progress' for your watchword and with unique versatility, you led the advance of French music in every branch, and you are justly acknowledged today to be its most gifted and exalted representative.
NARRATOR:

Elegy for Violin and Piano























Cypres et Lauriers
























The Swan
In the same year Saint-Saëns completed an oratorio called The Promised Land. This was sung at the Gloucester Musical Festival that autumn in the composer's presence. Incidentally, he had just been raised to the rank of Cornmandeur of the Legion of Honour.

( BRING UP THE SOUNDS OF WAR AND TAKE UNDER)

The Great War did little to restrict his activity.

(BRING UP SOUNDS OF WAR AGAIN. THEN MIX THROUGH TO HIS ELEGY FOR VIOLIN AND PIANO AND TAKE UNDER:)

At this time he wrote an Elegy for violin and piano, and a Cavatina for tenor trombone and piano; and then in 1916 went as representative of France to the Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco, writing a cantata, Hail California.

Saintsaens at his organ
Saint-Saëns at his organ
When peace returned, most people imagined that this octogenarian would retire, but the end of the war seemed to inspire him to fresh creativity: at the age of eighty-three he wrote his second String Quartet, Morceau de concert for harp, a Marche interalliee, and Cypres et Lauriers for organ and orchestra.

(ESTABLISH AND THEN TAKE UNDER: CYPRES ET LAURIERS)

During 1920 he composed a second Elegie for violin and piano, Six Fugues for the piano, and an Odelette for flute and orchestra. He celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday in Paris by appearing as composer and executant at a concert held at the Trocadero.

Saint-Saëns died of pneumonia in the arms of a faithful manservant, on 16 December 1921 at the Hôtel de l'Oasis in Algiers. He was eighty-six, but his vitality had remained astonishing. No composer has ever been laid to rest with greater pomp or solemnity. As a holder of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, he was entitled to full military honours and, throughout the night, while musicians from the Opera were roused from their sleep, troops were assembled into detachments to escort the body to the Cathedral.

(BRING UP CYPRES ET LAURIERS AND PLAY OUT)

ln the presence of the Governor-General, the Archbishop of Algiers conducted the service.

(INTRODUCE THE SWAN AND WEAVE UNDER)

The leading cellist paid tribute with a rendering of 'The Swan', the only published fragment of Carnival of the Animals. acknowledged today to be its most gifted and exalted representative.
SAINT-SAËNS: The supernatural lends itself admirably to expression in music and music ,finds in the supernatural a wealth of resources. But what music must have above all are emotions and passions laid bare and set in action by what we term the situation. And where can one find more or better situations than in history?
NARRATOR:
Camille Saint-saens
Camille Saint-Saëns
Escorted by squadrons of cavalry, Chasseurs d'Afrique, Zouaves, Senegalese and companies of infantry, the musicians moved towards the Port, where the coffin was shipped back to France. The vessel reached Marseilles on 21 December. Civic dignitaries were massed by the quayside, supported by hussars, colonial troops and a great concourse of the public, which followed the procession from the harbour to the Gare St Charles. On the 22nd the coffin was taken from the Gare de Lyon in Paris to the Madeleine, where in earlier days Saint-Saëns had been famed as greatest among the great organists of France. He was interred at Cimetière du Montparnasse.

(BRING UP THE SWAN AND PLAY OUT)

Lives of the Composers

Documentaries

Home Page