Charles Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was a French composer, organist, conductor and pianist of the Romantic era. He was seen as a child prodigy as an organist and pianist and Liszt described him as ‘the greatest organist in the world’. In musical circles, Saint-Saëns‘ score-reading and improvisatory skills were legendary.
As a composer he is perhaps best known for Le carnaval des animaux a humorous musical suite of fourteen movements which includes Le cygne (the swan) with its lushly romantic cello solo (which evokes the swan elegantly gliding over the water). Saint-Saëns’ finest works include his Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28, the Danse macabre, Op. 40, his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33, his Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22, , the opera Samson and Delilah and his Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 ‘Organ Symphony’.
Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 was composed in 1886 at a time when the composer was at the artistic peak of his career. It is also popularly known as the Organ Symphony, even though it is not a true symphony for organ, but simply an orchestral symphony where two sections out of four use the pipe organ.
The symphony continues to be frequently performed in concert and remains part of the standard repertoire. There are numerous recordings of this work but our particular favourite¹ is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim with the organ played by the late French organist Gaston Litaize. In this re-mastered recording the organ at Chartres Cathedral sounds exceptionally fine and it has been very skillfully blended into the mix so as to make an excellent foil to the “take no prisoners” playing of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Turn the volume up and enjoy this truly classic performance.
¹ There is also a highly acclaimed recording by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch on RCA.