Cover image for Camille Saint-Saëns : a life
Camille Saint-Saëns : a life
Rees, Brian, 1929-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
London : Chatto & Windus, 1999.
Physical Description:
485 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.S15 R44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Saint Saens was possibly the greatest among the many great organists of 19th-century France, and a composer of stature. He supported both Faure and Debussy, and championed innovations in symphonic and chamber music. This is the biography of a man whose life covered Beethoven to Stravinsky.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Forty thousand francs were spent on the state funeral of the late-nineteenth-century organist, composer, and writer Saint-Saens (1835^-1921). Revered as teacher and performer, he had led several French musical societies; taught at the Conservatoire, where Faurewas his pupil; written musical criticism and essays; and judged competitions. Widor and Vierne had been his friends, Massenet his rival. He had composed serious music (symphonies, concerti, chamber works, songs, and choral works), light music (e.g., Carnival of the Animals), and patriotic songs during World War I, but his favorite medium was the theater, for which he produced the operas Samson et Dalila and Phryne. Yet he was quickly forgotten, lost in the sea of modernism that swept the twentieth century. Rees vividly portrays him, sets his music in historical context, and, by describing the plots and the emotional content of his music, reveals the warm personality beneath his curmudgeonly facade. A Saint-Saens' revival seems long overdue, especially since Rees' thorough biography places him among the top musical artists of the nineteenth century. --Alan Hirsch

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 individualityÄinnovative 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this rather formidable study of the life and music of Saint-Sa‰ns as well as the artistic, social, and political world of France spanning the last half of the 19th century up to the composer's death in 1921, Rees (biographer of Sir Edward German) doesn't hide his opinion that the composer has been wrongfully neglected. Though he admits that Saint-Sa‰ns was a difficult person, he tends to defend him from most criticisms. A large number of Saint-Sa‰ns's compositions are discussed in detail, and although no actual musical examples are included, the author does use technical, analytical terminology, e.g., key relationships, formal organization, and tempo. All the same, the book is well written, and even those who are not particularly drawn to Saint-Sa‰ns will be fascinated by the detailed portrait of the ins and outs of turn of the century artistic life in Paris. For academic and larger public libraries.ÄTimothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Admirers of Saint-Sa"ens' music will find much to like in this biography as well: it is competent, covers an enormous range, and provides glimpses into the turbulent musical, political, and social worlds in which Saint-Sa"ens (1835-1921) achieved such a remarkable career and oeuvre. The book should also encourage those acquainted only with better-known works to seek out the less familiar, and to place them, as Rees does, against their contemporary background and against the European canon. Recounting Saint-Sa"ens' life sympathetically, Rees resists connecting works with biographical events. He is particularly at pains to present Saint-Sa"ens as an innovative composer, especially in matters of form and genre, despite his reputation as an academic conservative. His summaries of the compositions are cursory and give little indication of a work's actual sound. Specialists will object to some judgments rendered or simply passed along without comment and to the absence of specific sourcing of the many quotations (footnotes expand or provide sidelights to the text, the bibliography is simply inadequate, and there are no endnotes for citations). But this is a biography that Saint-Sa"ens himself might have appreciated during his lifetime, and general readers and nonspecialist undergraduates will appreciate it. J. McCalla; Bowdoin College