Rhapsodie D’Auvergne for Piano and Orchestra By Saint-Saens
(2008 Annual Concert at Glenn Gould Studio Toronto Soloist:Emily Pei’En Fan Conductor: Tony Fan with Chinese Artists Society of Toronto Youth Orchestra)
Saint-Saens: Later years
In 1886 Saint-Saëns debuted two of his most renowned compositions: The Carnival of the Animals andSymphony No. 3, dedicated to Franz Liszt, who died that year. That same year, however, Vincent d’Indyand his allies had Saint-Saëns removed from the Société Nationale de Musique. 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.
In 1908, he had the distinction of being the first celebrated composer to write a musical score to a motion picture, The Assassination of the Duke of Guise (L’assassinat du duc de Guise), directed by Charles Le Bargy and André Calmettes, adapted by Henri Lavedan, featuring actors of the Comédie Française. It was 18 minutes long, a considerable run time for the day.
In 1915, Saint-Saëns traveled to San Francisco, California and guest conducted the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, one of two world’s fairs celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal.
Saint-Saëns continued to write on musical, scientific and historical topics, travelling frequently before spending his last years in Algiers, Algeria. In recognition of his accomplishments, the government of France awarded him the 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.
Relationships with other composers
Saint-Saëns was either friend or enemy to some of Europe’s most distinguished musicians. He stayed close to Franz Liszt and maintained a fast friendship with his pupil Gabriel Fauré, who replaced him as organist and choirmaster when he retired. Additionally, he was a teacher and friend to Isidor Philipp, who headed the piano department at the Paris Conservatory for several decades and was a composer and editor of the music of many composers. But despite his strong advocacy of French music, Saint-Saëns openly despised many of his fellow-composers in France such as Franck, d’Indy, and Massenet. Saint-Saëns also hated the music of Claude Debussy; he is reported to have told Pierre Lalo, music critic, and son of composer Édouard Lalo, “I have stayed in Paris to speak ill of Pelléas et Mélisande.” The personal animosity was mutual; Debussy quipped: “I have a horror of sentimentality, and I cannot forget that its name is Saint-Saëns.” On other occasions, however, Debussy acknowledged an admiration for Saint-Saëns’s musical talents.
Saint-Saëns had been an early champion of Richard Wagner‘s music in France, teaching his pieces during his tenure at the École Niedermeyer and premiering the March from Tannhäuser. He had stunned even Wagner himself when he sight-read the entire orchestral scores of Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, andSiegfried, prompting Hans von Bülow to refer to him as, “the greatest musical mind” of the era. However, despite admitting appreciation for the power of Wagner’s work, Saint-Saëns defiantly stated that he was not an aficionado. In 1886, Saint-Saëns was punished for some particularly harsh and anti-German comments on the Paris production of Lohengrin by losing engagements and receiving negative reviews throughout Germany. Later, after World War I, Saint-Saëns angered both French and Germans with his inflammatory articles entitled Germanophilie, which ruthlessly attacked Wagner.
Saint-Saëns edited Jean-Philippe Rameau‘s Pièces de clavecin, and published them in 1895 through Durand in Paris (re-printed by Dover in 1993).
On 29 May 1913, Saint-Saëns stormed out of the première of Igor Stravinsky‘s Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), allegedly infuriated over what he considered the misuse of the bassoon in the ballet’s opening bars.