Ensemble 360 & George Morton - conductor

Crucible Playhouse, Sheffield
Tuesday 21 May 2024, 7.15pm

£14 UC, DLA or PIP
£5 Under 35s & Students

Past Event

Morceau de concert for horn and piano (9’) 
Bassoon Sonata
Les odeurs de Paris (5’) 
L’assassinat du duc de guise (19’)
The Carnival of the Animals (22’) 

Camille Saint-Saëns’ most celebrated work, ‘The Carnival of the Animals’ is a work unlike any other, transporting the listener into a musical menagerie that includes a swan, a tortoise, lions and a plunge into a truly magical aquarium. It is presented here alongside rarely performed pieces including ‘Les odeurs de Paris’, a musical riot, with the addition of trumpets and children’s toys to convey the many smells of Paris. Early French film The Assassination of the Duke of Guise is one of the very first to feature an original film score. Written by Saint-Saëns, the music will be performed live, conducted by George Morton, alongside a screening of the film in a celebration of the beloved French composer. 

Note from Guest Curator, Steven Isserlis 

“Saint-Saëns was a marvel in every way. Poet, playwright, philosopher, astronomer, classical scholar, animal rights activist, and so on – the list is endless; and this was in addition to being a master pianist, organist, conductor – and of course, composer. In his own words, he produced music as an apple-tree produces apples – but what an amazing variety of that fruit! Reams of music, ranging from witty to profound, conventionally charming to experimental, grand to intimate – he is a composer whom it is impossible to pigeonhole.  We will hear a rich variety of his oeuvre, including a film score (the first ever written by a well-known composer); a party piece with toy instruments; his very last work – the most famous of all bassoon sonatas; and finally that imperishable jewel, the ‘Carnival of the Animals’. 

Part of Sheffield Chamber Music Festival 2024. 

View the brochure online here or download it below.


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SAINT-SAËNS Camille, Morceau de concert for horn and piano

Originally called Fantaisie, the Morceau de concert was composed in October 1887 and a version with orchestral accompaniment quickly followed. It was dedicated to Henri Chaussier, inventor of a new type of valve horn (known as the ‘Cor Chaussier’), the specific instrument for which Saint-Saëns wrote this piece. It is in one continuous movement, divided into three distinct sections: a vigorous Allegro moderato in F minor gives way to a lyrical Adagio in A flat major followed by the concluding Allegro non troppo, which quickly moves from F minor to F major and a brilliant conclusion.  

Nigel Simeone

SAINT-SAËNS Camille, Bassoon Sonata

In spite of embracing the latest technology with his pioneering film score, Saint-Saëns never came to terms with more progressive musical trends as he grew older. He could find ‘no style, logic or common sense’ in Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and was appalled by Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (‘If that’s music, I’m a baboon’, he declared). Increasingly resistant to modernism, and viewed as something of a musical dinosaur, he turned instead to strict classical forms and traditional harmony, but always with beautifully-crafted results. In the last year of his life, Saint-Saëns wrote three sonatas scored for what he described to a friend as ‘rarely considered instruments’: oboe, clarinet and bassoon – and he had plans to write others for flute and cor anglais. The Bassoon Sonata, Op. 168, was the last of the three to be written, completed in June 1921 and dedicated to Léon Letellier, first bassoon of the Paris Opéra and the Société des concerts. Its three movements are a fluid and lyrical Allegro moderato, a delectable (and technically challenging) scherzo marked Allegro scherzando, and a final movement which begins with an expansive Molto adagio before a brief energetic section which brings the work to an energetic close. 


© Nigel Simeone 

SAINT-SAËNS Camille, Les odeurs de Paris

Les odeurs de Paris, probably composed in 1870 and subtitled a ‘grande marche’, is another delightfully daft piece, intended to evoke the smells of Paris with a ‘children’s orchestra’, including toy instruments – bird whistles, flageolets and ratchets – alongside piano, strings, trumpet and harp. Originally the score also called for ‘pistols’, but Saint-Saëns, probably wisely, deleted them. 


Nigel Simeone

SAINT-SAËNS Camille, L’assassinat du duc de guise

Composed in 1908, L’assassinat du duc de Guise was the first original film score by a major composer. The film was written by Henri Lavedan and directed by Charles le Bardy and André Calmettes; it was first shown by Le Film d’Art at the Salle Charras at 4 rue Charras, Paris, on 16 November 1908. Saint-Saëns had already left the city to spend the winter in Las Palmas and it was his pupil Fernand Leborne who conducted the performance. As for how Saint-Saëns went about writing the score, his first biographer Jean Bonnerot wrote in 1922 that it was composed ‘scene by scene, in front of the screen’.  

Nigel Simeone

SAINT-SAËNS Camille, Carnival of the Animals

As well as being a prolific and extremely successful composer, Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) was a brilliant piano virtuoso and a hugely respected teacher whose pupils included Fauré and André Messager. Both of them recalled his gifts as a musical humourist: he would often lighten the serious mood of lessons with pastiches and caricatures. This tendency found its fullest expression in Le carnaval des animaux, now one of Saint-Saëns’s most famous pieces, but originally conceived as a private entertainment. A masterly parody (lampooning, among others, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Saint-Saëns’s own Danse macabre), it was written for a Shrove Tuesday concert on 9 March 1886 given at the home of the cellist Charles-Joseph Lebouc, with Saint-Saëns and Louis Diémer as the pianists and Paul Taffanel as the flautist. Often rather severe and earnest in public, Saint-Saëns wanted to be known as a composer of serious pieces, so he was uncertain how a wider audience might react to his ‘grand zoological fantasy’, and apart from The Swan he did not allow any of Carnaval to be published during his lifetime. Performances were usually given among friends: two weeks after the premiere, it was played by the chamber music society called ‘La Trompette’ (for which Saint-Saëns had written his Septet), and on 2 April 1886 it was given at the salon of Pauline Viardot, by special request of Franz Liszt, on what turned out to be his last visit to Paris. 

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