Thursday, December 1, 2016

Saint-Saëns at 18 in 1853

Jean Martinon - Orchestre national l' O.R.T.

There are certain years in musical history where one can get a sense of the truly international character of the enterprise of making great music succeed. In the year 1855, Steinway & Sons was established in New York City, Johannes Brahms had written and published all three of his piano sonatas and was getting ready to take up with the Schumanns. Schumann himself was at the height of his powers. And in and around Paris, the young Camile Saint-Saëns, who certainly will figure in many pages of this blog, came upon the scene. 

He was in every way a remarkable prodigy. He was gifted with a great general intellect and a good long life, in fact one of the longest in professional music. He is often passed over because the quality and depth of his art are rarely appreciated.

That which was in every way French at the middle of the 19th century was featured in this work. Though much of it derives as said from Schumann and Mendelssohn, other ideas come from Beethoven, but the spaces inside the music, the depth, the scenic quality of the orchestral sound, all choirs neatly displayed and cleverly flanked against each other, all that is the uniqueness of Saint-Saëns.

The work is scored in four movements: 
1 - Adagio,allegro
2 - Marche,scherzo : Allegretto scherzando 
3 - Adagio 
4 - Finale : Allegro maestoso

Senses of immense spacial distances and vastness suggesting natural phenomena in light and air, especially in the third movement, though certainly derivative of Beethoven (his 9th symphony 3rd movement) are unique to Saint-Saëns.

We owe a tremendous thanks that this performance is up here. Now we need more people around the world to champion it. The last movement is very “national” and military. We will witness many pieces that fall into this category as we survey the music of Western civilization through the 19th into the 20th centuries.

This symphony closes with a climactic grand fugue. This symphony deserves a good solid revival!

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