Camille Saint-Saens: On Music and Musicians by Roger Nichols

By Roger Nichols

Camille Saint-Saëns is a memorable determine not just for his successes as a composer of choral and orchestral works, and the endlessly renowned opera Samson et Dalila, but additionally simply because he was once a prepared observer of the musical tradition during which he lived. A composer of huge intelligence and erudition, Saint-Saëns was once while one of many most appropriate writers on song in his day. From Wagner, Liszt and Debussy to Milhaud and Stravinsky, Saint-Saëns used to be on the middle of the elite musical and cultural fin de siècle and early twentieth Century international. He championed Schumann and Wagner in France at a interval while those composers have been considered as harmful subversives whose track might be stored good clear of the impressionable scholar. but Saint-Saëns himself had no aspirations to being a innovative, and his appreciation of Wagner the composer was once tempered through his reservations over Wagner the thinker and dramatist, suspicious as he was once of what he known as "the Germanic preoccupation with going past reality." no matter if protecting Meyerbeer opposed to fees of facility or Berlioz opposed to those that puzzled his harmonic grab, Saint-Saëns was once constantly his personal guy: in either situations, he claimed, it used to be "not the absence of faults however the presence of virtues" that distinguishes the nice composer.

Saint-Saëns's writings supply a well-argued counter-discourse to the powerful modernist tune critics who rallied round Debussy and Ravel through the fin de siècle. And particularly, they show a brilliantly sharp and energetic mind, expressing itself via prose of a Classical purity and stability, enlivened all through with flashes of wit and, now and then, of sheer malice.

In this generously annotated quantity, well known pupil, professional translator and radio broadcaster Roger Nichols brings many of the composer's such a lot awesome and evocative writings brilliantly to existence in English translation, many for the 1st time. Nichols has rigorously selected those decisions for his or her intrinsic curiosity as ancient files to create a well-balanced and fascinating view of the guy, the track, and the age.

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More than one artist has, to his cost, found that this is far from the truth. But when you don’t enjoy the success abroad that you’re used to, you don’t normally advertise such failures when you get home. So the French public often believes that Madame X and Mademoiselle Z have had triumphs in London, when in fact they experienced precisely the opposite. As I write, I’m holding Pandora’s box. If I were to open it! . Fear not; it shall remain closed. In order to set up concerts in London, whether as a performer or a composer, you must have a reputation.

1 To get an audience to respond seriously to these epic characters who had A 1 36 In Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, premiered on 17 December 1864. music become laughing stocks was, for a long time, an impossible notion. I put the project off for later and, as time went by, I forgot about it. Then came a request from M. Gunsbourg—which I resisted at first, only for him to make it even more strongly. This was enough to reawaken my memories, and to bring before me once again Helen and Paris more alive than ever.

Suppose that Helen and Paris, terrified by Pallas’s predictions, were to bid each other an everlasting farewell: they would take with them our esteem, but we should no longer be interested in them. Who was ever interested in Menelaus? This state of things, which dates back to the Garden of Eden, is disturbing; there’s a problem here that no one has so far managed to resolve. Maybe the civilised condition of which we are so proud, but which is very recent in the development of the human race, is merely a transitory one, a step towards a superior condition in which what now seems to us obscure will become clear, in which some things that now seem to us essential will be no more than words.

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