A free spirit! You might find this expression surprising, and yet it aptly describes the musician who gained international renown as both a pianist and organist, and who was also a composer having revelled in excelling across all genres, played across all continents and held in high esteem by the greatest musicians of his day. Posterity has tended to convey the image of a musician set in his ideas and steeped in academicism, portraying him as an embittered nationalist, an eclectic composer and a prolific author of so-called “easy” music. But these subsequent generations have forgotten that, in his youth, Saint-Saëns was a firebrand, regarded as the standard-bearer of the “progressives” and voicing a certain modernity by upending established customs and institutions.
Living, as it were, both “Mozart’s childhood and Titian’s old-age” during a lifetime of music spanning 80 years, Saint-Saëns was also an outspoken writer, bursting with verve and enthusiasm, an “intermediary” who opened up his contemporaries’ horizons to other repertoires, and a key witness of the changes sweeping through the musical world. He was an original, enigmatic and independent-minded character, a restless traveller, who significantly shaped musical life in his day, as “everyone knew that Saint-Saëns was there”.
Organised to coincide with the centenary of Camille Saint-Saëns’ death, this exhibition charts the milestones of his life and work, through the rich collections of manuscripts bequeathed to the State, now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s safekeeping, as well as the souvenirs and archives which the musician donated to the city of Dieppe.
To accompany the exhibition, curator Marie-Gabrielle Soret is offering a series of six podcasts to help us to better understand this unique artist.
Marie-Gabrielle Soret, département de la Musique, BnF
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