Saint-Saëns is often claimed as the avuncular figure of modern French music, whose most famous and important protégé was Fauré. He was a polymath extraordinaire: a prolific man of letters, playwright, musicologist (editor of Durand’s complete works of Rameau), administrator, teacher, publicist, botanist, astronomer, historian, philosopher, poet, travel-writer (under a pseudonym), virtuoso pianist, organist (Liszt thought him the finest in the world) and composer. With all this accomplishment Berlioz pointedly remarked, ‘he knows everything but lacks inexperience’. Indeed, his music suffers from charges of superficiality and a prodigious brilliance which posterity has deemed a double-edged sword. A talent arguably unfulfilled, Saint-Saëns revealingly wrote that the artist ‘has a perfect right to descend to the nethermost depths and enter into the inner secrets of the soul. That right is not a duty’.
The 2nd Cello Sonata, whose finely-contained Romanza is the third movement, was composed in 1905 and through its bold scale and big-hearted melodic profile constitutes a perfect example of Saint-Saëns’ strongest suit: an unabashed joy in well-proportioned sweeps of clear, engaging and rational material. The Romanza is a work whose long vocalised lines, with a dramatic and highly articulated middle section, transfer effortlessly to the trumpet, whilst the piano part remains unchanged.
- Trumpet in C