Camille Saint-Saens: A Life

Brian Rees, Author
Brian Rees, Author Sinclair-Stevenson, $45 (485p) ISBN 978-1-85619-773-1
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-571-24312-9
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For those who associate Saint-Sa ns (1835-1921) with only his most familiar pieces (Carnival of the Animals, Danse Macabre and the opera Samson and Delila), this book will come as a revelation. Rees (A Musical Peacemaker: The Life and Work of Sir Edward German) reinstates Saint-Sa ns as a major force in 19th-century French music. The composer was a child prodigy who wrote his own compositions before he was five, made his debut as a pianist at 10 and produced a multitude of operas, symphonies, concertos, orchestral pieces, and choral and chamber works. Saint-Sa ns was acclaimed by many for his genius, reviled by others as a dull conservative who revered out-of-favor composers such as Handel, Gluck, Bach and Mozart and cultivated older styles, such as the symphony and the concerto. Fierce in his opposition to contemporaries he disapproved of, including Franck, Debussy and Massenet, he showed exceptional generosity toward those he championed, Faur , Liszt and Gounod among them. Saint-Sa ns traveled all over the world and indulged his diverse interests as poet, philosopher, critic, journalist, amateur astronomer, even defender of animals. Adroitly balancing varying opinions about Saint-Sa ns's life and work, Rees presents an even-handed assessment of his achievements, examining the music in detail and demonstrating that it is imbued with individuality--innovative harmonies, stunning orchestral effects, ravishing melodies and exotic sounds and rhythms derived from the composer's world travels. This lucid and thorough biography should go a long way toward reviving interest in Saint-Sa ns. Illus. (Nov.)
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