AN 2 8770 Intégrale Concertos Violon Saint-Saëns

Complete Violin Concertos of Saint-Saëns

Release date October 23, 2015
Album code AN 2 8770
Periods 20th century
Genres Concerto | Violin

They spoke about it

Album information

Camille Saint-Saëns
Born in Paris, October 9, 1835
Died in Algiers, December 16, 1921

Camille Saint-Saëns epitomizes French music of the 19th century. Versatile and prolific, he contributed voluminously to every genre of French musical literature and influenced musical life in France as composer, teacher, pianist, organist, conductor, critic, chronicler, poet, and playwright. Saint-Saëns qualified as the most “complete” musician of his time according to his devoted friend and student Gabriel Fauré. His creative work, of astonishing range, provides a rich source of aesthetic and historical interest, crucial for an understanding of the music and culture of this era. He was so honoured and acclaimed both at home and abroad that he became a legend during his lifetime.

Saint-Saëns is the first French composer to emerge as the master of the solo concerto. He wrote ten works for solo instrument and orchestra that he titled “concerto”: three for violin, five for piano, and two for cello. In addition he composed 18 other works using the horn, flute, clarinet, harp, organ, violin, and piano, each with orchestra in a variety of compositions with evocative titles such as Cyprès et lauriers, La muse et le poète, Havanaise, and Africa.

The concerto provided Saint-Saëns the opportunity to display technical virtuosity as well as to express musical ideas. He explained: “It is virtuosity itself I mean to defend. It is the source of color in music. It gives wings to the artist to help him escape from the prosaic and commonplace. The conquered difficulty is itself a source of beauty.” He believed that virtuosity triumphed in all the arts, in literature, and in poetry; and that virtuosity, by penetrating the orchestra, had made possible the exciting effects of modern instrumentation. He reasoned: “The concerto solo is a role that must be conceived and performed like a dramatic character.” Saint-Saëns had a special affinity for the violin.

For Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), one of Saint-Saëns favorite violinists with whom he often performed, he wrote his greatest works for violin and orchestra: Introduction et Rondo capriccioso, First Violin Concerto op. 20, Third Violin Concerto op. 61, as well as an arrangement of Bach’s “Sarabande” from the Third English Suite. It is evident that Saint-Saëns greatly esteemed the ability of Sarasate. He conceded: “If my violin music has had great success, it’s to him that I owe it! For he was at that time the most prominent violinist in the world, and he played my works, still unknown, everywhere.”

For Saint-Saëns, art is primarily form. He maintained: “The artist who does not feel thoroughly
satisfied with elegant lines, harmonious colors, or a fine series of chords, does not understand art.” He experimented with form in his three violin concertos.

Violin Concerto no. 1 in A major, op. 20
In 1859 Saint-Saëns wrote Violin Concerto op. 20, often called Concertstu?ck because of its one-movement form. Though the work is termed the first violin concerto, it is actually the second, as Violin Concerto op. 58 was composed a year earlier in 1858. He dedicated the work to his friend Sarasate, who had requested it. Sarasate gave its first performance on April 4, 1867 at Salle Pleyel with the orchestra conducted by Saint-Saëns himself.

This concerto consists of a single movement with three main divisions labelled Allegro, Andante espressivo, and Tempo I (Allegro). Thus the customary three-movement form is condensed into
one movement in which new musical material in the slow section substitutes for the development. The work opens with an energetic passage featuring a series of massive chords in quarter notes with interplay by the orchestra and solo violin. A charming phrase of pastoral character follows and then assumes a cantabile of exquisite inspiration. The violin indulges in a cadenza providing a transition to the expressive slower middle section. The last part, which returns the two opening themes in reverse order, begins serenely and builds to a grandly evocative finale. The exciting exchanges between violin and orchestra fill the work with youthful exuberance.

Violin Concerto no. 2 in C major, op. 58
Saint-Saëns dedicated his first attempt at a solo concerto (op. 58) to Achille Dien (1826-1904), a violinist and painter with whom he performed chamber music early in his career. Though completed on March 3, 1858, the concerto was only published twenty-one years later in 1879 by his publisher and friend August Durand. It was first performed on April 9, 1860 at Salle Érard by Achille Dien at a concert of Saint-Saëns’s works by the Société Armingaud. This work has been neglected in our time, but it nevertheless possesses some compelling qualities. Like the Fourth Piano Concerto it contains only two movements with four sections, three of which have been placed in the second movement. The first contains the technically animated Allegro moderato e maestoso, while the second proceeds slowly with the beguiling Andante espressivo emphasizing the harp and wind accompaniment. It heads to the sprightly scherzo Allegro scherzando quasi allegretto and then to the exhilarating finale Allegro vivace. Émile Baumann (friend of Saint-Saëns) aptly described it: “The Allegro maestoso radiates youthful bravura with its brilliant emphases, its overflowing animation; the Andante begins with an ingeniously simple cantilena and the finale is a playful bit of devilry.

Violin Concerto no. 3 in B minor, op. 61
The Third Violin Concerto has remained a monument in the violin repertoire since its composition in March 1880. After Sarasate perused the work on May 31, 1880, he wrote to Saint-Saëns’s publisher, August Durand: “Saint-Saëns’s Concerto is a jewel. Please tell him not to allow anyone to play it before I do. You will see that I will make this first class work a veritable prince of the heavens.” He first performed the work on January 2, 1881 with Édouard Colonne conducting the orchestra. Later Saint-Saëns acknowledged the valuable advice he had received from Sarasate, to which he attributed the considerable degree of favor it received from the violinists.

The dramatic concerto opens with a fervid theme, which contrasts with the mellifluous second theme. Their development and alternation form the body of this first-movement sonata form. A gracious and languid barcarolle, Andantino quasi allegretto in 6/8 time, provides the three-part middle movement which exploits arpeggios of harmonics performed by the violin, doubled by the clarinets in a lower register in exquisite harmony.

A cadenza, played by the violin over the murmuring of the orchestra, commences the finale. The bold theme in triplets, Allegro non troppo, is succeeded by a bright affirmative theme which is restated by the orchestra in chorale style. The astute changes in tonal color add richness and subtlety to the memorable music. Saint-Saëns himself best summed up his personal contribution to the history of music. From Bône, Algeria, on February 23, 1901, he wrote to Durand: “I have realized the extravagant dream of my youth. I achieved my goal; I have lived long enough to leave works which have the chance of survival.

The history of music of this time cannot be written without at least mentioning them!” He perpetuated the traditional French values – moderation, logic, clarity, balance, precision – during an era of strong foreign influence in France.

His expert craftsmanship, his spirited approach to traditional forms, and his Gallic interpretation of romantic genres provided the new French school of music with both foundation and inspiration.

© Sabina Teller Ratner

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Andrew Wan
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM)
AN 2 8770 Intégrale Concertos Violon Saint-Saëns

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