Tuesday, December 20, 2011 | Categories: |
If you select the "images" option of Google, and enter the name Camille Saint-Saens into the search engine, your screen will fill with hundreds of photos, including the one above, of one of the greatest pianists and organists and composers ever to stride across the face of the earth. His beard, a prominent nose and hooded eyes makes him look a kin to Charles Darwin or Walt Whitman. And certainly, he belongs on the same historical page as those titans. Like Whitman, multitudes could not contain him.
Saint-Saens is best remembered as the composer of the Carnival of the Animals, a piece he refused to publish in his lifetime, save for the Swan, which proved to be a real cash cow. A few of his symphonies and concertos and concert pieces are still played. But there are literally hundreds and hundreds of works in every genre that are rarely if ever heard. Also little read are his poems, or his writings on religion and philosophy and mathematics and astronomy. Well-traveled and successful, he was the quintessential 19th century polymath. His was a rich and exotic life. It was also, in some ways, a life that was tragic and secretive. Saint-Saens was buried on Christmas Eve, 1921, and back in 2006 CBC's Bill Richardson decided to mark the anniversary by poking around the edges of the puzzle that was and is, Camille Saint-Saens.