🎻 The Concerto for cello and orchestra n ° 1 in A minor op. 33 by Camille Saint-Saëns 🎵

by Pier Paolo Maccarrone

The Concerto for cello and orchestra n ° 1 in A minor op. 33 by Camille Saint-Saëns is a composition written in 1873.

History of composition

Alongside his activity as a pianist and composer, Camille Saint-Saëns had dedicated himself with great commitment to promoting the dissemination of French and European music by conducting countless concerts; however, a part of music criticism in France was not at all benevolent towards him, as in the case of the “Revue des Deux Mondes” which already in 1862 qualified him as a «scholar, indeed pedantic, highly cultivated on everything but lacking in originality». To these ferocious criticisms, the master replied with energy, continuing to exercise a tireless activity, both popular and creative; thus saw the light of works such as the magnificent Trio in F and the Quintet with piano composed between 1865 and 1867, which contributed to restore the cult of chamber music in France, as well as the First and Second Concerto for piano and orchestra (1865 -1868). Furthermore, Saint-Saëns arranged to organize concerts dedicated to Mozart’s music at the Salle Pleyel with the collaboration of the Spanish virtuoso violinist Pablo de Sarasate, for whom he had composed his First Concerto for violin and orchestra in 1867.

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Meanwhile, the musician’s fame began. to spread even beyond national borders, in spite of critical detractors (to whom Saint-Saëns would have replied with all-French pungent irony, inserting them in the Carnival of animals with the indication of “Characters with long ears”, that is donkeys !; the First Piano Concerto received wide praise in Germany after its performance at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, while the Second Piano Concerto (dedicated to Anton Rubinstein) received enthusiastic comments from Franz Liszt. Later, in December 1869, again in Leipzig Saint -Saëns performed his Third Concerto for piano and orchestra; the following year, on the occasion of the centenary of the n Ascite of Beethoven, he went to Weimar where he met Liszt again, to whom he mentioned the great opera project he had been waiting for three years, Samson et Dalila. After 1870, the best period of Saint-Saëns’ copious musical production began, during which many of his most significant works were composed, including alongside the Sonata for cello (1872), the Quartet with piano (1875) and the Fourth Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1877) features the First Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor. Composed expressly to enhance the virtuoso qualities of Auguste Tolbecque, to whom the work is dedicated, it was performed for the first time on January 19, 1873 in Paris at the Conservatory’s Concert Society under the direction of Édouard Deldeves. The First Concerto was immediately regarded as one of the most fascinating works of literature for the cello and was enthusiastically received by cellists, especially in view of the fact that romanticism did not offer many interesting works for their instrument.

Composition structure

The beginning, indicated in Allegro non molto tempo, opens with a very short and violent chord of the orchestra, immediately followed by the intervention of the soloist who exposes the main theme without delay, whose repeated triplets almost take on the meaning of a real leitmotif. After a crescendo and a peak of intensity (triplets of flutes), a “second theme” can be sung by the cello. There is the return of the triplets, followed by an episode of virtuosity for the soloist. A third thematic element then intervenes (Allegro molto), in F major, with a concluding function. The return of the triplets is still heard, and it is in the rhythmic ardor that this first part of the Concert ends. An Allegretto follows with motion in B flat, with the pace of a minuet. The orchestra starts alone, but then the soloist overlaps and the respective thematic elements, initially distinct, gradually mix. Suddenly the third part of the Concerto (Tempo I) begins and immediately resumes the end of the first part, which confirms the function and the interlude character of the episode in B flat a posteriori. The triplets reappear immediately and in this third part we find numerous references to what we heard at the beginning, but a new theme also appears for the soloist Un peu moins vite (A little less soon). In the conclusion we find a large (albeit modified) reprise, in which Saint-Saëns demonstrates great inventiveness by managing to insert new ideas, which give the Concert the traits of a fantasy. An extra coda leads to the end of the work, for which it can be said to be composed of witty segments put together without seams rather than movements.

➡️ https://youtu.be/Fn73tDlszJY

The beginning, indicated in Allegro non molto tempo, opens with a very short and violent chord of the orchestra, immediately followed by the intervention of the soloist who exposes the main theme without delay, whose repeated triplets almost take on the meaning of a real leitmotif. After a crescendo and a peak of intensity (triplets of flutes), a “second theme” can be sung by the cello. There is the return of the triplets, followed by an episode of virtuosity for the soloist. A third thematic element then intervenes (Allegro molto), in F major, with a concluding function. The return of the triplets is still heard, and it is in the rhythmic ardor that this first part of the Concert ends. An Allegretto follows with motion in B flat, with the pace of a minuet. The orchestra starts alone, but then the soloist overlaps and the respective thematic elements, initially distinct, gradually mix. Suddenly the third part of the Concerto (Tempo I) begins and immediately resumes the end of the first part, which confirms the function and the interlude character of the episode in B flat a posteriori. The triplets reappear immediately and in this third part we find numerous references to what we heard at the beginning, but a new theme also appears for the soloist Un peu moins vite (A little less soon). In the conclusion we find a large (albeit modified) reprise, in which Saint-Saëns demonstrates great inventiveness by managing to insert new ideas, which give the Concert the traits of a fantasy. An extra coda leads to the end of the work, for which it can be said to be composed of witty segments put together without seams rather than movements.

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