MUSIQUE(S) - IMAGE(S) - Camille Saint-Saëns

MUSIQUE(S) - IMAGE(S) - Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns - The most learned of our pop artists


Exactly one hundred years ago (1921), Camille Saint-Saëns passed away, the most celebrated French composer of his time and the father of French concert music and one of the greatest melodists in history. 

In 2021, the musical world will pay homage to this universal figure of music through countless concert tributes, culminating in a "Saint-Saëns World Tour" at the Philharmonie de Paris on 15 June, a unique opportunity to rediscover the composer’s symphonic poems conducted by François-Xavier Roth, amongst other concert highlights. In support of these events, the publishers Durand Salabert Eschig have published a synthesised exploration of his work, penned by the great international Saint-Saëns specialist, the Canadian musicologist Sabina Ratner, available here below:


A mainstream artist before his time, Saint-Saëns has permeated not only the world of scholarly music but also, during his lifetime, that of popular culture. Before becoming the soundtrack for the red carpet at the Cannes festival, his swaying melodies were the soundtrack of Parisian life at the end of the 19th century. And whilst improvisations on the piano and small orchestras for utilitarian purposes were legion in theatres, Saint-Saëns wrote in 1908 the first music specifically composed for a cinematographic work (L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise) and is associated with an artistic form which seeks to reconcile a learned art (actors of the Comédie Française, the first attempt at an “art film") and a popular pastime. Much like the future pop musicians several few decades later, Saint-Saëns employs in this first soundtrack a form of sound editing punctuated by effects, far from the developments of his symphonic music.


Listen to the original soundtrack composed by Camille Saint-Saëns from the film L'Assasinat du Duc de Guise directed by André Calmettes in 1908.


This dual lineage, in both pop culture and cinema, marks the rise of Saint-Saëns into our cultural space. On the side of pop culture, the affection demonstrated by the Disney studios, either directly (Fantasia 2000), or in the form of a tribute (Beauty and the Beast). On the scholarly side, the loyalty that creators such as the inspired Terence Malick have shown the composer (Days of Heaven) or the provocative Roman Polanski (The Ninth Gate). Thanks to these cinematic productions, it is now as much the visual fantasy of the most sophisticated animations as the intimacy of the close-ups on the expressive faces of Richard Gere and Johnny Depp that our contemporaries associate with the immortal sound discoveries of the composer of the Carnival des Animaux and the Havanaise, who passed away exactly one hundred years ago. 




Photos :
Camille Saint-Saëns © BNF

Films : 

Terrence Malik - Days of Heaven (1978)
André Calmettes - L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise (1908)
Gary Trousdale et Kirk Wise - Beauty and the Beast (1992)
Eric Goldberg, James Algar, Hendel Butoy, Pixote Hunt, Gaëtan Brizzi, Don Hahn, Paul Brizzi, Francis Glebas - Fantasia 2000 (1999)
Roman Polanski - The Ninth Gate (1999)