Friday, October 23, 2020

Saint-Saëns - La Muse et le Poète, Opus 132

In 1907 a statue of Saint-Saëns was exhibited in the Paris Salon. An admirer of Saint-Saëns saw it, a Mme. J-Henry Carruette, (obviously a woman of means), and wanted to present it to the town of Dieppe. But there was an actual law at the time that strictly forbade a statue being erected to a living person. Mme Carutte (and no doubt others) worked some political magic, and the statue was allowed to be erected. The irascible Saint-Saëns was not impressed. He considered that he must be dead to have a statue erected, so therefore he didn't have to make a speech at the unveiling. 

When Mme. Carruette died in 1909, Saint-Saëns wrote a one-movement piano trio and dedicated it to her. Despite the objections of Saint-Saëns, his publisher insisted on giving the title The Muse And The Poet to the work. But Saint-Saëns obviously like the work, so he orchestrated it shortly afterwards, and that is the version that is played today. 

At the time, Saint-Saëns was bristling against the dominance of German formal music structures, so the piece has an improvisatory quality to it. Saint-Saëns grew more and more against German music, to the point of demanding that it should never be played in France during World War One. 

As much as Saint-Saëns disliked the title, it isn't inappropriate. The music begins in a somber tone with the orchestra, but when the violin enters, the mood brightens. The cello enters and things get gloomy again, but the violin keeps going and convinces the cello to brighten its mood too. The work is a difficult one for the soloists, but Saint-Saëns said it was a conversation between the two soloists instead of a debate between two virtuosos.  

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