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Charles Camille Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns, Charles Camille (shärl kämēˈyəˈ săN-säNs) [key], 1835–1921, French composer. A child prodigy, he made his debut as a pianist at 10 and entered the Paris Conservatory in 1848. He was a prolific composer, writing in almost every form, and he was organist at the Madeleine for 20 years. Saint-Saëns is best known for his biblical opera, Samson et Dalila (1877); other works include the Third Symphony (1886), with organ and piano; the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863), for violin and orchestra; the piano concertos in G minor (1868) and C minor (1875); and symphonic poems, notably Le Rouet d'Omphale (1872) and Danse macabre (1874). His works are marked by unfailing craftsmanship and brilliant orchestration, but they frequently lack imaginative force. He was a champion of instrumental music in France when it was extremely low in popular esteem. In his later years, Saint-Saëns became highly conservative, strenuously opposing modern music.

See his Musical Memories (tr. 1919); biographies by A. Hervey (1921, repr. 1970) and W. Lyle (1923, repr. 1970); J. Harding, Saint-Saëns and His Circle (1965).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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