French piano concertos in the tradition of Franz Liszt

Saint-Saëns' piano concertos are just right for celebrating spring. © Charles Thibo
Saint-Saëns’ piano concertos are just right for celebrating spring. © Charles Thibo

A horn? A French Horn? Well yes, Camille de Saint-Saëns opens his Piano Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 17 on the sound of a horn. Not the ordinary introduction, but then again the French composer wasn’t an ordinary man, oh no! You will like this concerto from the first moment on. The triumphant trumpets are followed quite quickly by the piano – relief, there is a piano! – and finally by the strings to move through the piece on a brilliant melody that reminds me of the soundtracks of some Disney children movies. Optimistic, lighthearted. The horn is later echoed by the flutes, then the strings play the main theme of the first movement – ten minutes of joy set to music.

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The Infidels praise the Lord

Vienna at Christmas time - the cupola of the Museum of Natural History. © Charles Thibo
Vienna at Christmas time – the cupola of the Museum of Natural History. © Charles Thibo

On Christmas Eve, I will honor a convinced agnostic: Camille de Saint-Saëns. The French composer’s life is marked by an interesting paradox. He preferred reason to faith, and still, for most of his career, he worked as an organist at the church La Madeleine in Paris. As such, he composed in 1858 a wonderful Christmas cantata in nine movements, the “Oratorio de Noël” Op. 12. It was performed for first time on December 25 of the same year in La Madeleine and dedicated to his pupil, the Viscountess de Grandval. Saint-Saëns had intensively studied the choral music of Bach, Händel and Mozart and makes an explicit reference to Bach in the “Prélude”. He had already composed a mass, his Op. 4, at that time.

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