French composer, pianist, and organist. Saint-Saëns was a master of technique and a prolific composer. He wrote many lyrical Romantic pieces and symphonic poems. He is well known for the opera Samson et Dalila (1877), which was prohibited on the French stage until 1892, and the uncharacteristic orchestral piece Le carnaval des animaux/The Carnival of the Animals (1886), his most popular work.
Saint-Saëns was born in Paris. He began to compose at the age of five and played the piano well at that age. He gave a public recital in 1846 and entered the Conservatory as an organ scholar in 1848, gaining a first prize in 1851, when he entered Halévy's class for composition. He was appointed organist at the church of Saint-Merry in Paris in 1853, at the Madeleine in 1857, and piano professor at the Ecole Niedermeyer in 1861.
His virtuosity at the organ was admired by Liszt, and he promoted performances of Liszt's symphonic poems. His first two symphonies were performed in 1853 and 1859, he played his second piano concerto in 1868 and founded the Société Nationale de Musique with Romain Bussine in 1871; his own symphonic poems Le Rouet d'Omphale and Phaëton date from this time. One of his most frequently performed works, the first cello concerto in A minor, was composed in 1872; it displays the composer's familiar and conservative French Romantic style together with melodic inventiveness. He played in England several times from 1871 and toured Spain and Portugal in 1880.
The biblical opera Samson et Dalila, begun in 1868, was prohibited on the French stage on account of its subject. It was conducted by Liszt at Weimar in 1877 and was allowed in Paris from 1892, the year he received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University. The massively proportioned 3rd symphony, with organ obbligato, dates from 1886, and his appealing 3rd violin concerto in B minor followed in 1890. Saint-Saëns recognized that its success with the public would lead to neglect of his more important compositions and banned its performance during his lifetime. In 1906 he visited the USA, and again in 1916, when he also travelled to South America.
WorksOperaSamson et Dalila (1877); Henri VIII (1883).
Orchestral five symphonies (1886, two unnumbered; no. 3 with organ and piano duet); symphonic poems, including Le Rouet d'Omphale (1872), Danse macabre (1875) (originally a song); five piano concertos (1858–96), three violin concertos (1858, 1859, 1890); Introduction et Rondo capriccioso (1863); two cello concertos (1872, 1902).
ChamberLe carnaval des animaux for chamber ensemble (1886); two piano trios; septet for piano, strings, and trumpet (1881); sonatas for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and piano.
Keyboard 24 opuses of piano music; 7 organ works.
Choral the oratorio Le Déluge; several cantatas; Requiem (1878), many songs.
Saint-Saëns, (Charles) Camille