Saint-Saens: On Music and Musicians by Roger Nichols

By Roger Nichols

Camille Saint-Saëns is a memorable determine not just for his successes as a composer of choral and orchestral works, and the perpetually renowned opera Samson et Dalila, but additionally simply because he used to be a prepared observer of the musical tradition during which he lived. A composer of substantial intelligence and erudition, Saint-Saëns was once even as one of many greatest writers on tune in his day. From Wagner, Liszt and Debussy to Milhaud and Stravinsky, Saint-Saëns was once on the heart of the elite musical and cultural fin de siècle and early twentieth Century international. He championed Schumann and Wagner in France at a interval whilst those composers have been considered as risky subversives whose song can be saved good clear of the impressionable scholar. but Saint-Saëns himself had no aspirations to being a progressive, and his appreciation of Wagner the composer used to be tempered by way of his reservations over Wagner the thinker and dramatist, suspicious as he used to be of what he referred to as "the Germanic preoccupation with going past reality." no matter if protecting Meyerbeer opposed to fees of facility or Berlioz opposed to those that puzzled his harmonic snatch, Saint-Saëns was once consistently his personal guy: in either situations, he claimed, it used to be "not the absence of faults however the presence of virtues" that distinguishes the nice composer.

Saint-Saëns's writings offer a well-argued counter-discourse to the powerful modernist tune critics who rallied round Debussy and Ravel through the fin de siècle. And particularly, they display a brilliantly sharp and energetic mind, expressing itself via prose of a Classical purity and stability, enlivened all through with flashes of wit and, every now and then, of sheer malice.

In this generously annotated quantity, popular pupil, pro translator and radio broadcaster Roger Nichols brings the various composer's such a lot remarkable and evocative writings brilliantly to lifestyles in English translation, many for the 1st time. Nichols has conscientiously selected those choices for his or her intrinsic curiosity as historic files to create a well-balanced and fascinating view of the guy, the tune, and the age.

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An art gives rise to a powerful suggestion, and through it the moon instantly appears as green cheese. The public in its innocence falls in with these crack-brained ideas. When you go back and read what someone like Stendhal said about Cimarosa, or what Balzac said about Rossini, you’re amazed at the opinions they foisted off on their contemporaries; who listened to them open-mouthed, truly believing that if they failed to find everything in this Italian music that people wanted them to, it was because they were incapable of understanding it.

A preface for your collected verse plays! Would it be allowed? Would not any such notion make the hair stand up on the heads of all literary persons, or at least of those who still have any? Is it not generally acknowledged that writers, without knowing anything about music, are qualified to judge it, but that H on not writing a preface 39 musicians on the contrary, however literate they may be, have no rights in the field of literature? Where have you been? How do you come to be so ignorant of the simplest facts?

When you go back and read what someone like Stendhal said about Cimarosa, or what Balzac said about Rossini, you’re amazed at the opinions they foisted off on their contemporaries; who listened to them open-mouthed, truly believing that if they failed to find everything in this Italian music that people wanted them to, it was because they were incapable of understanding it. Fifty years ago one did not dare express a doubt as to the quality of famous operas which nowadays are regarded as deficient in melody, harmony, instrumentation, everything .

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