Camille Saint-Saëns – Javotte Ballet for orchestra (1896)
(born in Paris, October 9, 1835 — died in Algiers, December 16, 1921)
Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns was raised in Paris by his mother and her widowed aunt. A child prodigy on the piano, Saint-Saëns was a talented student with divergent interests, many of which carried into his adulthood. In addition to becoming known as a pianist and composer, Saint-Saëns performed on the organ and conducted professionally. He was a prolific essayist, writing on musical subjects, of course, but about many other subjects as well, such as set design in ancient Roman theater; he also wrote poetry and plays.
Saint-Saëns was very well respected throughout most of his life and was quite influential in the Parisian musical scene during the second half of the nineteenth century. He was given a seat in the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1881 and became an officer in the Legion of Honor in 1884. Saint-Saëns lived to the age of 86; he outlived Debussy (1862-1918) and witnessed the rise of jazz, twelve-tone music, and many other trends in early twentieth century music. Within France, his popularity declined noticeably in later years, and he gradually became an outspoken representative of the old guard. For example, he was an early champion of Wagner’s music in the 1870s, but by World War I he was arguing against the undue influence of Wagnerism, particularly on French music.
Saint-Saëns composed in virtually every musical genre. His operas and orchestral works were very well received during his lifetime, and he composed numerous successful concertos, some of which remain in today’s repertoire. The only opera that continues to be regularly produced is Samson et Delila (1877); his symphonic poem Danse macabre (1874) and Le carnaval des animaux (1886) for large chamber ensemble both remain very popular with today’s audiences.
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