Charles-Camille Saint-Saens was a Romantic-era French composer, organist, conductor, and pianist. Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863), Second Piano Concerto (1868), First Cello Concerto (1872), Danse macabre (1874), Samson and Delilah (1877), Third Violin Concerto (1880), Third ("Organ") Symphony (1886), and The Carnival of the Animals (1887) are among his best-known compositions (1886).
Saint-Saens was a musical prodigy who performed for the first time at the age of ten. Following his studies at the Paris Conservatoire, he pursued a traditional career as a church organist, first at Saint-Merri in Paris then, from 1858, at La Madeleine, the French Empire's main church. He was a successful freelance pianist and composer in Europe and the Americas after leaving the office twenty years later.
Although his works were mainly within a traditional classical tradition, Saint-Saens was passionate about the newest music of the day, notably that of Schumann, Liszt, and Wagner when he was a young man. He was a music historian who stayed steadfast in his belief in the frameworks devised by older French composers. This put him at odds with composers of the impressionist and dodecaphonic schools of music in his later years; despite neoclassical elements in his music, which foreshadowed works by Stravinsky and Les Six, he was frequently regarded as a reactionary in the decades leading up to his death.
Saint-Saens only had one teaching position, which he held for fewer than five years at the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris. It was nonetheless significant in the evolution of French music: among his students was Gabriel Fauré, who subsequently taught Maurice Ravel. Saint-Saens, whom they regarded as a genius, had a tremendous impact on both of them.
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