Saint-Saëns – Violin Concerto No. 3 in B-minor, op. 61

by Max Derrickson

Camille Saint-Saëns      (b Paris, 9 October, 1835; dAlgiers,Algeria, 16 December, 1921)

Violin Concerto No. 3 in B-minor, op. 61
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Andante quasi allegretto
3. Molto moderato e maestoso – Allegro non troppo

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 Western music world.  From his very beginnings, music poured forth from the young Camille, who learned the piano at age 2 ½, was composing at three, and became a concert pianist at the age of 10.  Through his career as composer, Saint-Saëns’ music was inventive (sometimes branded as dangerously innovative), but maintained its classical elegance mixed with Romantic harmonies and energies.  His intellectual appetites ranged wider than his musical brilliance, too.  As well as being a poet and playwright, he contributed to scholarly progress in astronomy, botany, archeology and philosophy.

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The Violin Concerto No. 3 was composed in 1880, dedicated to and premiered by the wildly famous Spanish violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate (1844 – 1908).  Having already written six previous concertos (piano, violin, and cello), Saint-Saëns had by this time cultivated his talent for writing instantly memorable melodies, and for tailoring his concertos to their specific soloist.  This concerto, then, features the rather mercurial temperament of Sarasate,
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The first movement skips the usual introduction and dives right in with the solo violin,
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The gorgeously lyrical and gentle second movement
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The ending passages are breathtakingly lovely, when the oboe takes over the violin’s theme, accompanied by arpeggios in the clarinet and the violin playing harmonics (of which Sarasate was particularly fond), creating the delightful feeling of a heart’s levity in utter joy.

The finale is the concerto’s most weighty movement, and turns back to the serious character of the first with a very sober recitative-like introduction.
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