Saint-Saëns – Danse Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah

by Max Derrickson

Camille Saint-Saëns     Born:Paris, 1835; Died:Algiers, 1921

Danse Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah

The prolific Camille Saint-Saëns might well be considered the Professor Emeritus of French music.  Over the span of eight and a half decades, he composed over three hundred works in a huge range of genres, performed in hundreds of concerts as pianist and organist, taught countless pupils, championed new composers, helped revive the works of Bach and Handel (composers he adored), and was known in every corner of the music world.  Berlioz, a close friend, quipped famously, Il sait tout, mais il manque d’inexpérience (“He knows everything, but lacks inexperience”).
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Of his hundreds of compositions, his orchestral works, his masterpiece opera Samson and Delilah, and his concerti are the most popular.  His beloved Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”) may have been his favorite child, but his bete noire quickly became The Carnival of the Animals.  That this was his best-known work gave Saint-Saëns no end of disgruntlement.  Composed in a few days during a trip to South America, he actually banned its public performance for many years (save for the lovely “Swan” movement) knowing instinctively that this humorous piece of musical fluff, created as a gag to please his inner-circle of friends, would become his albatross.

Saint-Saëns was not displeased, however, over the popularity of his opera Samson and Delilah (1877).  Just as the opera has been in the opera hall, equally cherished in the concert hall is its Bacchanale from Act III.   A scene of wanton jubilance, the Philistines are celebrating the fallen hero in theTemple ofDagon, Samson’s shorn hair laid at the altar.  And just as Saint-Saëns said that music falls from his pen like apples, the memorable, exotic sounding themes in this dance are prolific.  The final dance is breathtakingly powerful,
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