Saint-Saëns, Camille


Saint-Saëns, Camille

Piano Concerto No.3 in E-flat Op. 29 (Piano Reduction for 2 pianos, 2 copies)

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Saint-Saëns, Camille

Piano Concerto No.3 in E-flat Op. 29 (Piano Reduction for 2 pianos, 2 copies)

Preface of the full score

As a young composer, Saint-Saëns was one of the leading representatives of the progressive tendencies in French music. However, his career as a composer in France developed in a rather unusual manner. His compositions did not correspond with the French taste of the time, which placed the opera at the centre. In contrast, symphonic music was only marginal. Therefore his music was more successful in Germany (where above all Franz Liszt supported him), than in France. At the end of his long life he was regarded as a traditionalist and opponent of the modern. This unfortunately often lead to Saint-Saëns’ music being underrated. Thus, in Riemann’s Encyclopaedia of Music his music is characterized as follows: “In his compositions, in which he combines his considerable ability with a cool austerity and elegance, formal and technical characteristics are strongly predominant.”

Saint-Saëns was a brilliant pianist and organist, so it is not surprising that he wrote five piano concertos for his own use. All five are of a high musical quality and very gratifying for the pianist. They were written over a period of almost 40 years and are quite different. In the concert hall, particularly the 2nd and 4th piano concertos have become established.

The piano concerto no.2 (1868) was highly praised by Franz Liszt after the first performance. Saint-Saëns, who in his turn much admired Liszt, encouraged by this praise, shortly afterwards in the year 1869 composed the piano concerto no.3 in E flat major op.29. It was first performed on the 15th of December of that year in the Leipzig Gewandhaus by the composer, who played the solo part.

The vague harmony of the introduction and the strange form of the opening theme provoked a tumult amongst some of the audience. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung certified the composition as “…having a not insignificant taste of music of the future”. The introduction consists of a long sequence of piano arpeggios, to which the festive theme from the horns is finally added. Saint-Saëns later described this opening as depicting the murmur of a waterfall in the Alps. The further development of the theme is close to that of the sonata form, in which however, a cadence separates the exposition from the development and a second cadence, the development from the reprise. The basic key of E flat major remains vague, the secondary theme for example is in the unusual key of f minor and the first cadence wanders between D major and G major, which are far removed from the home key. The symphonic character of the movement, in which the piano partly accompanies the orchestra, was also criticized. In 1877, the newspaper Le Ménestrel wrote of a performance in Paris:”This piece conceived in the style of the new school …is well qualified to bring forward the death hour of virtuosity at the conservatoire”.

In the central movement Saint-Saëns permits himself even more harmonic audacity. He uses countless dissonances, which are often not resolved. In addition, the choice of the key E major between the two E flat major movements is unusual. The fact that the movement fades out on a tritonus a-e flat, can be considered unique for this period.

The finale follows without interruption and is composed in the rondo form. It corresponds thus to the contemporary conventions. Saint-Saëns refers here to his piano concerto no.1, whereby the movement contrasts to those proceeding.

In 1913, Saint-Saëns arranged the first movement of the concerto for two handed piano under the title of “Allegro pour le piano”.

Duration of play: about 26 minutes.

Translation: John Conrad

Score Data


Repertoire Explorer


Keyboard & Orchestra


225 x 320 mm


Piano Reduction & Solo Piano, 2 copies



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