Sunday, January 8, 2012

Camille Saint-Saëns - The Carnival of the Animals

And if you like your music très romantique, you'll like Camille Saint-Saëns, the late Romantic French composer.  If he'd been American, he'd likely have served in the War Between the States.  Of course by then he was recognized - by Franz Liszt, no less - as being the greatest organist in the world.  He was a musical prodigy - perfect pitch at age two, reading music at age three, his first composition (now lovingly preserved in Paris at the Bibliothèque Nationale) at age four.

Image via Wikipedia
But he was more than just a musical prodigy; he was an intellectual prodigy as well.  Not content to limit himself to music, he wrote scientific and historical papers on acoustics and ancient Roman theater design - while he wasn't composing or wowing the jaded Parisian audience with his weekly organ improvisation concerts at the Church of La Madeleine in the heart of Paris (a block from our favorite hotel, as it turns out).

But while he missed the American Civil War, the Atlantic didn't shelter him from the Franco-Prussian War which was a disaster for France.  Saint-Saëns founded a group to preserve and advance French music, much like Pierre Curie did for French science.  Science and technology seemed intertwined with his life: he wrote the first score for a major motion picture (in 1908).  He outlived the Great War, living to see the New World (sailing through the newly completed Panama Canal to conduct an orchestra in San Francisco).  Quite a life, all 86 years.

He's best known for his Carnival of the Animals, which is a diverse suite of 14 short movements.  Some are whimsical (L'elefant), but the best are heartbreakingly romantic.  In short, the perfect music for a candle light dinner.  The Swan (Le cygne) is the most famous of these:

While not as famous, I expect that Saint-Saëns - with his film background - might like this video of another movement, The Aquarium:

Neat-o Torpedo, you might say.  Ogden Nash in the 1940s wrote some verses to go with each of the movements - often, they're preformed that way today.  Nash did quite a good job of capturing the music and reflecting it back in his half doggerel, half profound poetic style.  The Fossils:

Those of you lucky enough to be with your sweetheart might think about a candle light dinner (Valentine's Day is only 5 weeks away).  Saint-Saëns is the perfect musical score to go with your French Champagne.  What, your sweetheart isn't worth the real thing?

1 comment:

Ken said...

Heartbreakingly romantic is the word for The Swan, all right.

Funny thing -- my first exposure to Saint-Saens was "Bugs & Daffy's Carnival of the Animals," back in 'seventy and six.