Camille Saint-Saëns

Born - Oct 9, 1835   |   Died - Dec 16, 1921   |   Genres - Music, Drama, Dance, Comedy Drama, Travel

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Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

This prolific French composer synthesized Viennese classical and romantic styles with his taste for French salon pieces, opera, and exotic impressionistic pieces to create many colorful, character-filled compositions. Toward the end of his life, Camille Saint-Saëns began writing in a more original, austere style similar to that of Gabriel Fauré.

In the Disney Studios-animated feature Fantasia 2000 (1999), the joyous, energetic Finale of Saint-Saëns' delightful set of musical caricatures entitled Carnival of the Animals accompanies the antics of a flock of proper, gracefully dancing and gliding flamingos. One delightfully comic member of the group, who is fascinated with a yo-yo, constantly topples their all-too-well-choreographed ensemble efforts, making for a humorous as well as beautifully drawn segment.

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) depicts the miseries of junior high school and suburban family life as mostly visited upon the film's central character, Dawn "Weinerdog" Wiener (perfectly enacted by Heather Matarazzo). A brief phrase from the solo cello melody of Le Cygne (The Swan) from the Carnival of the Animals is heard as Dawn, enamored, is alone with Steve Rodgers (Eric Mabius), a high school senior and the new guitar player/singer for her brother Mark's (Matthew Faber) pathetic garage band. Le Cygne also appears in the films Heute nacht oder nie (Tonight or Never, 1972), Tonight We Sing (1953), An Englishman's Home (1946), and (uncredited) in The Wizard of Oz.

A descending passage of diminished seventh chords from the mystical, impressionistic Aquarium movement of the Carnival of the Animals is heard in the background as Dawn chants a love charm ("Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, hear me...fall in love with me...take me away from this place") in front of a shrine she has constructed from a wooden Christmas manger containing Steve's high school ID card and his name spelled out in silver glitter. Excerpts from the Carnival of the Animals are also heard in Days of Heaven (1978) and the delightful animated cartoon Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals (1976).

The composer's creepy Danse Macabre appears in the TV series Jonathan Creek (1997) and the short Spook Sport (1939).

Saint-Saëns' opera Samson et Dalila (Op. 47, 1877), with a libretto based on chapter 16 of the biblical Book of Judges that emphasizes the love story between an inspiring leader and a scheming woman (rather than Samson's deeds), has had three television realizations to date: Samson y Dalila for Spanish TV in 1989, Samson et Dalila for French TV in 1981 (with Placido Domingo as Samson and Shirley Verrett as Dalila), and Samson et Dalila for British TV in 1981 (with Jon Vickers as Samson). Excerpts from the opera also appeared in the wonderfully titled silent film Tense Moments From Opera (1922) with live singers. Further excerpts from this opera can be heard in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Slamdance (1987), and Willow Springs (1973), which also quotes the well-known Havanaise.

Saint-Saëns' music is also quoted in Après la réconciliation (After the Reconciliation, 2000) (Le rossignol et la rose); Underground (1995) (Organ Symphony); Au revoir les enfants (1987) and Nocturno de amor (Nocturne of Love, 1947) with music from the brilliant, elaborate Concert No.2 for piano and orchestra; They Shall Have Music (1939) (aka Ragged Angels) (Rondo Capriccioso); and L'Assassinat du duc de Guise (Assassination of the Duke of Guise, 1908).

Saint-Saëns' opera Henry VIII (1883) received a television production in 1991. The composer himself appears in Sacha Guitry's film Ceux de chez nous (1915) with other legendary personages including Sarah Bernhardt, Edgar Degas, Anatole France, Claude Monet, Jean and August Renoir, and Auguste Rodin.