Camille Saint-Saéns

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French composer, organist, conductor, and pianist

  • 1835 born in Paris, France. He was taught piano by his aunt, beginning at age 2.
  • 1839 his first composition at age 4. His first public concert was at age 5, accompanying a Beethoven violin sonata.
  • 1842 began studying piano with Camille-Marie Stamaty.
  • 1845 at age 10, Saint-Saëns gave his debut public recital at the Salle Pleyel, playing a Mozart piano concerto and works by Handel, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Hummel, and Bach. He performed everything from memory, and offered to play any of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas from memory as an encore. Word of this feat spread throughout Europe.
  • 1848 Saint-Saëns entered the Paris Conservatory. He studied organ with Benoist, and won first prize in 1851. He also studied composition and orchestration with Halévy, and took lessons in accompaniment and singing.
  • 1853 he was made organist of St Merry.
  • 1857-1877, he was nominated to the Madeleine. According to Oxford Music online, "it was there that Liszt heard him improvising and hailed him as the greatest organist in the world."
  • 1861-1865 he taught at the Ecole Niedermeyer. His pupils included Fauré, Messager, Isidor Philipp, and Gigout, who each became lifelong friends. He maintained a long-term fatherly relationship with Faure and with Faure's family. He was either friends or enemies with most of the prominent composers of his day: Liszt, Faure, and Philipp were friends; however, Saint-Saëns railed against the music of Franck, Debussy, and Massenet.
  • 1875 Saint-Saëns married the 19-year-old Marie-Laure Truffot. His marriage was unhappy.
  • 1878 his two young sons died within 6 weeks of each other. A permanent separation from his wife followed.
  • 1888 his mother died, and he travelled to Algeria. He travelled extensively, and as he grew older he began to spend much of his time in Egypt and Algeria. As his popularity in France waned, he continued to be highly regarded as a composer and concert artist in England and America.
  • 1921 died in Algiers, Algeria

For details, see the Camille Saint-Saёns article on Wikipedia.

Oxford music online biography of Saint-Saëns:

List of Organ Works

Click to sort by opus number, title, or year of composition or publication
Opus Title Year
Op. ?? Fantaisie no. 1 in E-flat major 1857
Op. 9 Benediction Nuptiale 1859
Op. 7 3 Rapsodies sur des Cantiques Bretons 1866
Op. 78 Symphony no. 3 in C minor, "Organ" 1886
Op. 99 3 Preludes and Fugues 1894
Op. 101 Fantasy in D-flat major 1895
Op. 109 3 Preludes and Fugues 1898
Op. 150 7 Improvisations 1916-1917
Op. 157 Fantasy in C major 1919
Op. ?? Title year

Background and General Perspectives on Performing Saint-Saёns Organ Works

Some analysis of Saint-Saëns' musical style by Oxford Music online:

  • "Although he seemed a reactionary to his younger colleagues, in his time Saint-Saëns served French music well. The perspective of history shows him as a neo-classicist and as the embodiment of certain traditional French qualities – moderation, logic, clarity, balance and precision – that were coming back into fashion at the turn of the 20th century."
  • "Saint-Saëns wrote in every 19th-century musical genre, but his most successful works are those based on traditional Viennese models, namely sonatas, chamber music, symphonies and concertos. Well schooled in the works of Bach and Beethoven, he was influenced at an early age by Mendelssohn and Schumann."
  • "Saint-Saëns's musical language is generally conservative. Although some of his melodies are supple and pliable, many are formal and rigid. They are usually built in well-defined phrases of three or four bars, and the phrase pattern AABB is characteristic. The most distinctive aspect of his music is his harmony, in which he was influenced by the theories of Gottfried Weber. Modulations by 3rds are typical, and while most chordal progressions are simple and direct, the many digressions and alterations lend nobility or charm to the music. He had a tendency to repeat rhythmic patterns."

Registration and Organs

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See the footnote in the "Notes" section at the bottom of the page[1]

Fingering and Pedaling

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Articulation and Phrasing

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Tempo and Meter

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Scores and Editions

Fantaisie in E-flat major on imslp:,_Camille)

3 Preludes and Fugues, opus 99:,_Op.99_(Saint-Sa%C3%ABns,_Camille)

3 Rapsodies sur des Cantiques Bretons, opus 7:,_Op.7_(Saint-Sa%C3%ABns,_Camille)

7 Improvisations, opus 150:,_Op.150_(Saint-Sa%C3%ABns,_Camille)


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Free Online

Fantaisie in E-flat major, played by Christopher Houlihan:

Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, Opus 99 no. 3:

Rapsodies sur des Cantiques Bretons, opus 7 no. 3:

7 Improvisations, Opus 150 no. 7, played by David Roth:

Symphony no. 3, "Organ:"

Pay to Listen

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Other Resources

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  1. This footnote was entered in the "Registration and Organs" section

This space is for automatic insertion of footnotes. To enter a footnote from anywhere in the article, start by typing the tag <ref> and then enter the text, and type the tag </ref> to end the footnote. The footnote will then appear in this "Notes" section automatically.