A fatherless child like Charles Gounod, Camille Saint-Saëns was raised by his mother and grand-aunt. The latter introduced him to the piano before entrusting him to Camille Stamaty and Pierre Maleden. Extraordinarily gifted at an early age, Saint-Saëns made his first public appearance in 1846. Two years later, he was at the Paris Conservatoire in the classes of Benoist (organ) and Halévy (composition). Though he failed twice at the Prix de Rome competition, his whole career was distinguished by many awards and appointments at several institutional positions, among which a seat at the Academy in 1881. A virtuoso resident organist at la Madeleine church (1857-1877), he made a lasting impression on his contemporaries. Saint-Saëns was a fruitful and learned composer who played an active part in rehabilitating old masters through new editions of Gluck and Rameau. He was eclectic in his tastes and promoted Wagner as well as Schumann. He was the teacher of Gigout, Fauré and Messager. As a music critic, he wrote many articles showing a clear and strong mind, though very committed to academic principles.
This very same independent and willful mind prompted him to found in 1871 the National Music Society, of which he resigned in 1886. Admired for his orchestral pieces, imbued with a classical rigor not devoid of daring style (5 piano concertos, 5 symphonies among which the last one with organ, 4 symphonic poems, among which the famous Danse macabre), he achieved international fame with his operas Samson et Dalila (1877) and Henry VIII (1883).
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