top of page


1835 - 1921

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (9 October 1835 – 16 December 1921) was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era. His best-known works include Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863), the Second Piano Concerto (1868), the First Cello Concerto (1872), Danse macabre (1874), the opera Samson and Delilah (1877), the Third Violin Concerto (1880), the Third ("Organ") Symphony (1886) and The Carnival of the Animals (1886).

(b. Paris, October 9, 1835; d. Algiers, December 16, 1921)

FRENCH COMPOSER AND PIANIST. From 1 about 1870 to 1890 he towered over the musical life of France on the strength of his remarkable talent, intellectual brilliance, wide-ranging interests, enormous capacity for work, and cast-iron constitution. A world traveler before the advent of aviation, he visited the United States on several occasions, spent many winters in Northern Africa, and was still hardy enough to tour South America in his ninth decade. Though born before the invention of the telegraph, he lived long enough to become the first major composer in history to write film music.

His father died when Saint-Saens was just three months old; he was raised by his mother and his great-aunt, who began teaching him to play the piano when he was three. At ten he made his debut at the Salle Pleyel on a program that included piano concertos of Mozart and Beethoven. He had an eidetic memory, which allowed him to master not only music but a huge variety of subjects: His interests included mathematics, archaeology, astronomy, and the natural sciences. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1848, winning first prize in organ in 1851 and studying composition and orchestration with Fromental Halevy. He quickly gained admission to the elite musical circles of Paris, where his talents earned the admiration of Rossini, Berlioz, Liszt, Viardot, and Gounod. In 1857 he became organist at the church of the Madeleine, and as pianist and conductor he championed the music of the new school—Wagner, Liszt, and Schumann— as well as that of the old—Bach, Handel, and Mozart. In this he was noticeably ahead of his time.

From 1861 to 1865 he taught at the Ecole Niedermeyer, where his students included Gabriel Fame, and in 1871 he founded the Societe Nationale de Musique, which would become one of the most important organizations in French musical life over the next three decades. The 1870s and 1880s were a period of remarkable productivity, during which Saint-Saens wrote much of his best and enduringly popular music, including the opera Samson et Dalila (finished in 1877), the Organ Symphony (1886), several tone poems, a dozen concerted works, and a clutch of chamber works, including Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals', 1886).

During the 1890s, he supervised the publication of a complete edition of the works of Rameau; in 1908 he wrote music for the silent film L’assassinat du due de Guise. He remained active as composer and performer to the end of his life—he gave his last concert two months before he turned 86—and in later years wrote essays on a variety of subjects, including botany, ancient instruments, early music, and the works of contemporary composers.


Saint-Saens contributed to every major genre common in the 19th century. Of his 13 operas only one, Samson et Dalila, retains a place in the repertoire. Following the lead of Liszt, he was the first French composer to write symphonic poems—Le rouet d’Omphale (1871), Phaeton (1873), Danse macabre (1874), and La jeunesse d’Hercule (1877). He penned five symphonies, of which two, both early compositions, remained unpublished for many years. His most important work in the form was his Symphony No. 3 in C minor, known as the Organ Symphony because of the prominent role assigned to that instrument. Among Saint-Saens’s other important works are concertos for piano, violin, and cello, as well as numerous shorter concerted works, including the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso (1863) and the Havanaise (1887), both for violin and orchestra.

Saint-Saens has been judged by posterity as a reactionary. In fact, he was one of his era’s most astute and eclectic musicians, thoroughly acquainted with the works of his most forward-looking contemporaries. If he was more a consolidator than a pioneer, he nonetheless remained true to the spirit and traditions of French music by fusing the best of the new and old and by exhibiting consummate craftsmanship and a sensitive ear for sonority in all his works.

"Saint-Saëns is a consummate master of composition, and no one possesses a more profound knowledge than he does of the secrets and resources of the art; but the creative faculty does not keep pace with the technical skill of the workman. "

Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians 
on the music of Saint-Saens


Key Works

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, "Organ Symphony"

1 Adagio - Allegro moderato - Poco adagio
2 Allegro moderato - Presto - Maestoso - Allegro

Danse Macabre

Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals)

I. Introduction et marche royale du lion (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion) [0:00]
II. Poules et coqs (Hens and Roosters) [1:58]
III. Hémiones - animaux véloces (Wild Asses - quick animals) [2:42]
IV. Tortues (Tortoises) [3:22]
V. L'éléphant (The Elephant) [5:24]
VI. Kangourous (Kangaroos) [6:55]
VII. Aquarium [7:51]
VIII. Personnages à longues oreilles (Characters with Long Ears) [9:58]
IX. Le coucou au fond des bois (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods) [10:35]
X. Volière (Aviary) [12:40]
XI. Pianistes (Pianists) [13:52]
XII. Fossiles (Fossils) [15:15]
XIII. Le cygne (The Swan) [16:41]
XIV. Finale [19:40]

 Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso

Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 33

Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor op. 61

00:00 1. Allegro non troppo
09:32 2. Andantino quasi allegretto
19:29 3. Molto moderato e maestoso

Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor

1. Andante sostenuto (0:00)
2. Allegro scherzando (11:44)
3. Presto (17:44)

Piano Concerto No. 4 in C Minor

I- Allegro moderato - Andante 00:00
II- Allegro vivace - Andante - Allegro 11:35

Piano Concerto No. 5 op. 103 in F Major, "The Egyptian"

1- Allegro animato
2 - Andante
3 - Molto allegro

Le Rouet d'Omphale Op.31

Havanaise in E Op. 83

Piano Quartet No. 2 Op. 41

00:00 Allegretto 
08:13 Andante maestoso, ma con moto 
15:15 Poco allegro, più tosto moderato 
22:29 Allegro 

Samson et Dalila

"Samson et Dalila": "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix"-
Olga Borodina, Placido Domingo

bottom of page