The Equinox String Quartet
String Quartet, Op. 153: Camille Saint-SaŽns
I Allegro animato
String Quartet, Op. 112: Camille Saint-SaŽns
Notes from The Debut CD
String Quartet in G Major, Op. 153 (1918)
String Quartet in E Minor, Op. 112 (1899)
Camille Saint-SaŽns (October 9, 1835 - December 16, 1921) is one of the most fascinating and seminal figures in French music. In the course of an exceptionally long professional career, he composed over 800 works, enriching the keyboard repertoire alone by some 80 pieces.
His masterworks include much of the worlds most beloved music, including the Organ Symphony, the Cello Concerto, the Opera "Samson & Delila", and the Carnival of the Animals.
Endowed with an incandescent intellect, Saint-SaŽns was an amazingly facile and technically adept musical master. At the age of two-and-a-half he taught himself to play the piano; at three he produced his earliest compositions. At ten, at his first public piano recital, he captured international attention by offering to play, by memory, any of the 32 Beethoven sonatas as an encore. His brilliance astounded his older colleagues. "He knows everything...but lacks inexperience," quipped Berlioz of his friend and protege. Gounod heralded him as "the French Beethoven." Liszt, who considered him the finest organist in the world, paid for and mounted the first public appearance (in Weimar) of Samson & Delila.
Although Saint-SaŽns could be an ardent and persuasive champion of "progressive" music (Wagner, Liszt, Schumann, Moussorgsky, et al) his own music epitomizes the French taste for "classically" impeccable craftsmanship, moderation, clarity, and balance:
One of Saint-SaŽns important contributions to French music was the founding (with Romain Bussine) of the Societe Nationale de Musique in 1871, which gave inspiration to, and a forum for, works by young contemporaries, including D'Indy, Chausson, Dukas, and Ravel. In addition to his musical career, Saint-SaŽns occupied himself with scholarly pursuits in the fields of astronomy, archaeology, botany, geology, lepidoptery, poetry, philosophy, and even the occult.
His public success and prodigious intellectual activity notwithstanding, Saint-SaŽns was nevertheless a rather acerbic and lonely man. His strongly voiced musical opinions ultimately cost him many would-be supporters. His enemies claimed that the music did not live up to its promise, and that the admittedly elegant creations were devoid of the spirit and substance that was embodied in more "progressive," dramatically conceived music. His bitterness over this assessment only reinforced his tendency towards misanthropism (it is well documented that he much preferred the company of animals to that of people).
Heaped on all this is personal and domestic tragedy: in 1878 he lost both of his young children to an accident and illness. Holding his wife responsible, he walked out on the marriage without formal separation or divorce, never to see her again. The frame of mind that these situations engendered contributed, no doubt, to the pessimism expressed in the Saint-SaŽns book "Problems et Mysteres", in which atheism is advocated. It is no surprise then, that much of Saint-SaŽns' music is tinged with melancholy, albeit an asthetically transmogrified melancholy that is exalted, bittersweet, and profoundly touching and pleasurable.
Notes by Ron Levy, 9/97