The Brief History of a Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns.

Camille Saint-Saëns (Oct. 9, 1835 – Dec. 16, 1921) was a French composer, organist, pianist and conductor of the Romantic Era of classical music.

Photograph taken by Pierre Petit in 1900.


Saint-Saëns made his concert debut at the age of 10. If you’ve read my previous post on being called an “AMATEUR,” you’ll continue to think about the word favorably, when you consider Saint-Saëns’s youthful start — and his triumphant finish!

Young Saint-Saëns.


Saint-Saëns began his career as a church organist. It took him a whole twenty years to become a successful pianist and composer, whose work was in demand in France, Britain, mainland Europe and the Americas. Which just goes to show you — just because your dream doesn’t come true immediately, that certainly doesn’t mean it never will.

Among Saint-Saëns’s most popular work is the Danse Macabre, Samson and Delilah, and the Carnival of the Animals. It’s the Danse Macabre, though — one of my absolute favorite songs — that made me choose Saint-Saëns for today’s article. The work, of course, is based on the legend of the danse macabre: or, the wild dance of the dead every Halloween at midnight.

Here is a stanza from the Danse Macabre, before the vocal line was replaced with a solo violin. (The text is from the poem “Égalité, Fraternité,” by Jean Lahor.)

The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;

Moans are heard in the linden trees.

White skeletons pass through the gloom,

Running and leaping in their shrouds.

And here is a representation of a performance of Samson et Dalila at the Paris Opéra. (I am extremely fond of the Danse Bacchanale. It’s another of my favorites.)

Property of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département Musique.

Though Saint-Saëns only ever held a single teaching post (at the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris), his instruction was a powerful force in the shaping of French classical music. Among his pupils was Gabriel Fauré, who later went on to instruct Maurice Ravel.


Gabriel Fauré.


Saint-Saëns was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (a French order established by Napoleon in 1802, and the highest decoration in France) in 1867. He was promoted to Officer in 1884, and finally, Grand Croix in 1913. He became a member of the British Royal Victorian Order (a dynastic order of knighthood established in 1896 by Queen Victoria) in 1902.

Saint-Saëns at the piano for his farewell concert in 1913. Conductor: Pierre Monteux. Property of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département Musique.


And that’s a wrap, ladies and gentleman — at a short and sweet 400 words! I thank you for reading; and I bid you good day.


8 thoughts on “The Brief History of a Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns.

  1. So I had to text my middle son to ask him if he knew who Camille Saint-Saëns was and to my amazement he said “Yea one of my favorite composers, why?” I like testing him now and again b/c he’s a pianist. I’ll have to send him your post. Thx

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like Steph’s son knows his pianists and passed her test with flying colors. Now I at least know enough about this fellow to at least get a few test questions right! (I don’t know if I mentioned it or not C.M. but, like Steph’s site, your link is on my Blogroll on both my blogs now. Really enjoy your posts! Best, Bruce 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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