Camille Saint-Saens : A Life
Last updated: 17.12.19
||Chatto & Windus
Hardcover - 485 pages (September 1999)
Forty thousand francs were spent on the state funeral of the late-nineteenth-century organist, composer, and writer Saint-Saens (1835^-1921). Revered as teacher and performer, he had led several French musical societies; taught at the Conservatoire, where Faurewas his pupil; written musical criticism and essays; and judged competitions. Widor and Vierne had been his friends, Massenet his rival. He had composed serious music (symphonies, concerti, chamber works, songs, and choral works), light music (e.g., Carnival of the Animals
), and patriotic songs during World War I, but his favorite medium was the theater, for which he produced the operas Samson et Dalila
. Yet he was quickly forgotten, lost in the sea of modernism that swept the twentieth century. Rees vividly portrays him, sets his music in historical context, and, by describing the plots and the emotional content of his music, reveals the warm personality beneath his curmudgeonly facade. A Saint-Saens' revival seems long overdue, especially since Rees' thorough biography places him among the top musical artists of the nineteenth century.
Late in the night of December 16, 1921, Camille Saint-Sans, the patriarch of French music, died in the arms of his faithful servant. In his youth, before the Revolution of 1848, he had played in the Salons of the Tuileries for King Louis Philippe. At his death, the funeral rites were the most splendid ever accorded to a musician before or since.