Saint-Saëns, Camille

Orient et Occident Op. 25 for orchestra

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Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns – Orient et Occident, Op. 25

(b. Paris, 9. October 1835 — d. Algier, 16 December 1921)


Camille Saint-Saens: One of the most important French composers of the romantic age, Camille Saint-Saens, was also one of the greatest child prodigies and intellects in all of music history. He began piano lessons before the age of three and shortly thereafter started composing, having already learned to read and write. He was reading and analyzing full orchestral scores at age 5, and performed his first public recital at that age, accompanying a Beethoven violin sonata. At age ten, he gave a concert that included Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, a Mozart concerto, along with works of Bach, Handel, and Hummel. For his encore, the young prodigy offered to play any of the 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas from memory. A few years later he studied organ and composition at the Paris Conservatoire. His first symphony was performed in December 1853. He displayed the same genius and lifelong eclectic intellectual curiosity in learning languages, advanced mathematics, archeology, botany, acoustics, history, philosophy, literature, geology and astronomy. Having been born and coming to maturity in a Paris, which at the time included literary and musical elites such as Victor Hugo, Ivan Turgenev, Gustav Flaubert, George Sand, Gioachino Rossini, Georges Bizet, Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, Charles Gounod, Jacques Offenbach, Cesar Franck, and Henri Vieuxtemps, it was difficult for Saint-Saens to stand out as a composer. By the mid 1860s he had however established himself as a first-class pianist and organist but had not made his mark as a composer. In 1868, to great critical and public acclaim, he premiered (playing the solo part) his Second Piano Concerto. This performance and the premiere of other works subsequently contributed to his becoming an important person in the musical life of not only Paris but also the rest of France and eventually abroad.

Orient et Occident, Op 25, was premiered in a concert in Paris that was part of a gala evening of the Union Centrale des Beaux-Arts in October 1869. It was a celebration of the relationship between arts and industry and it featured an exhibition of oriental art. The music was dedicated to Theodore Biais, a friend of the composer who was a manufacturer of church ornaments. It was a perfect complement to Saint-Saens’ wide ranging, eclectic, and intellectual interests. Orient et Occident was the first of four works that he scored for wind band. Subtitled as a Grand March, it contains echoes of the grandiose elements of some of the music of Meyerbeer. With its programmatic associations it is however more closely related to the orchestral tone poems of Liszt. Most of those had been composed, premiered and published in the years from 1830-1861. So, it is entirely possible that Saint-Saens was at least familiar with the genre. In the years that followed Saint-Saens wrote four works actually titled symphonic poems including Phaeton, Le Route Omphale and La Jeunesse d’Hercule.

A later performance of Orient et Occident, again with the composer conducting, was given to great acclaim, at the World Fair in Paris on 21 October 1878. He revisited the piece in 1909, arranging a version for full symphony orchestra.

The opening Occident section is in the typical European style of classical music from the romantic age, with its marches, fanfares, lyrical and functional melodies. The middle Orient section, at least oriental as defined by Saint-Saens, is music from Africa and the Muslim lands of the Near East. This features elements of Janissary music from Turkey, arabesques, drones, scales and rhythms found in the western representation of Arabic/Muslim music. The styles of the Orient and Occident are integrated for the third section with a reprisal of the introductory theme of the West and concluding with that quintessential style of western music, a fugue.

Karl Hinterbichler, University of New Mexico, 2022

For performance material please contact Durand, Paris.

Score No.



Repertoire Explorer




210 x 297 mm





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