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Saint-Sai'Ans: On Music and Musicians

Overview


Camille Saint-Saëns is a memorable figure not only for his successes as a composer of choral and orchestral works, and the eternally popular opera Samson et Dalila, but also because he was a keen observer of the musical culture in which he lived. A composer of vast intelligence and erudition, Saint-Saëns was at the same time one of the foremost writers on music in his day. From Wagner, Liszt and Debussy to Milhaud and Stravinsky, Saint-Saëns was at the center of the elite musical and cultural fin de siècle and ...
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Overview


Camille Saint-Saëns is a memorable figure not only for his successes as a composer of choral and orchestral works, and the eternally popular opera Samson et Dalila, but also because he was a keen observer of the musical culture in which he lived. A composer of vast intelligence and erudition, Saint-Saëns was at the same time one of the foremost writers on music in his day. From Wagner, Liszt and Debussy to Milhaud and Stravinsky, Saint-Saëns was at the center of the elite musical and cultural fin de siècle and early 20th Century world. He championed Schumann and Wagner in France at a period when these composers were regarded as dangerous subversives whose music should be kept well away from the impressionable student. Yet Saint-Saëns himself had no aspirations to being a revolutionary, and his appreciation of Wagner the composer was tempered by his reservations over Wagner the philosopher and dramatist, suspicious as he was of what he called "the Germanic preoccupation with going beyond reality." Whether defending Meyerbeer against charges of facility or Berlioz against those who questioned his harmonic grasp, Saint-Saëns was always his own man: in both cases, he claimed, it was "not the absence of faults but the presence of virtues" that distinguishes the good composer.

Saint-Saëns's writings provide a well-argued counter-discourse to the strong modernist music critics who rallied around Debussy and Ravel during the fin de siècle. And above all, they demonstrate a brilliantly sharp and active brain, expressing itself through prose of a Classical purity and balance, enlivened throughout with flashes of wit and, at times, of sheer malice.

In this generously annotated volume, renowned scholar, seasoned translator and radio broadcaster Roger Nichols brings some of the composer's most striking and evocative writings brilliantly to life in English translation, many for the first time. Nichols has carefully chosen these selections for their intrinsic interest as historical documents to create a well-balanced and engaging view of the man, the music, and the age.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Saint-Saëns's prodigious talents were not confined to music, for he was a sharp and engaging writer who was never afraid to express his views on the musical experiences of a long life. Roger Nichols has done a great service to those who love 19th-century music by selecting a series of illuminating essays on the great musical figures of his time, including Rossini, Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Offenbach, Massenet, and of course Wagner. The immediacy of Saint-Saëns's intelligent and always personal appreciation of these composers comes to life in Nichols's expert English translation."--Hugh Macdonald, Avis H. Blewett Professor of Music, Washington University, St Louis

"Saint-Saëns, the urbane composer-craftsman par excellence, was also a perceptive and seasoned writer on music. Nowadays he might be regarded as opinionated and somewhat reactionary, but in contemporary France he was widely read and appreciated for his outspoken honesty and his colorful, direct prose. The objects of what Stravinsky called his 'sharpness' range from a defense of the old Paris Conservatoire to a courageous, but balanced attack on Wagner. Many of the essays are translated here for the first time by Roger Nichols, who captures Saint-Saëns' wit and clarity to perfection. His well-chosen selection makes entertaining reading, while Saint-Saëns' erudition and perspicacity give depth to this representative picture of Paris musical life around the turn of the century."--Professor Robert Orledge

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195320169
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 10/23/2008
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,308,713
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Nichols is a writer and broadcaster who specializes in French music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Music
1. Introduction (Harmonie et Mélodie, i-xxxi, March 1885)
2. Art for art's sake ('L'art pour l'art', Ecole buissonnière, 135-40)
3. Harmony and Melody ('Harmonie et mélodie', Harmonie et mélodie, 1-36, July 1879)
4. The Birmingham Festivals ('Festivals de Birmingham', Harmonieet mélodie, 141-54, August 1879)
5. Musical eccentricities ('Divagations musicales', Au courant de la vie,45-51)
6. Hélène (Au courant de la vie, 71-6)
7. On not writing a preface (lettre préliminaire à George Docquois: Le plaisir des jours et des nuits, autog., BnF Rés. F. 1644(5) )
8. Musical trends ('Le mouvement musical', Portraits et souvenirs, 221-9)
9. In defence of Opéra-Comique ('La défense de l'Opéra-Comique', Portraits et souvenirs, 169-76)
10. The old Conservatoire ('Le vieux Conservatoire', Ecole buissonnière, 39-47; Echo de Paris, 28 January 1911)
11. The organ ('L'orgue', Ecole buissonnière, 175-6)
Musicians
12. Meyerbeer (Ecole buissonnière, 277-300)
13. Rossini (Ecole buissonnière, 261-7; Echo de Paris, 19 March 1911)
14. Berlioz I (Harmonie et mélodie, 249-55; le Voltaire, 15 December 1881)
15. Berlioz II (Portraits et souvenirs, 2-14; Revue bleue, 26 July 1890)
16. Liszt I (Harmonie et mélodie, 155-72; le Voltaire 17 August 1879)
17. Liszt II (Portraits et souvenirs, 15-34, February 1893; ? The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine)
18. Wagner - Bayreuth 1876 ('L'anneau du Nibelung', Harmonie etmélodie, 37-98; l'Estafette, 19-28 August 1876)
19. The Wagnerian illusion ('L'illusion wagnérienne', Portraits et souvenirs, 206-20; Revue de Paris, 1 April 1899
20. Gounod (Portraits et souvenirs, 35-97; Revue de Paris, 15 June 1897
21. Offenbach I (Harmonie et mélodie, 217-24)
22. Offenbach II (Ecole buissonnière, 301-7)
23. Memories of childhood ('Souvenirs d'enfance', Ecole buissonnière, 1-10)
24. Bizet (Portraits et souvenirs, 124-7; la France, 1 February 1885)
25. Massenet (Ecole buissonnière, 269-75; Echo de Paris, 12 October 1912)
26. Pauline Viardot (Ecole buissonnière, 217-23; Echo de Paris, 5 February 1911)
27. Four poems to friends

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