Camille Saint-Saens and Anton Dvořák suffered a common complaint – their respective names: Saint-Saens’ from mispronunciation, and Dvořák’s from misspelling. Other that they were music contemporaries in the late romantic period.
Saint-Saens was music’s Renaissance man, a former child prodigy whose genius extended beyond music to linguistics, literature and science. A restless creative spirit given to constant travelling - making trips to some 27 countries - it was in North Africa that he found his spiritual home — and his physical home too. There he documented many of his travels in musical works that he composed using themes collected along the way.
He was one of the most precocious musicians ever, beginning piano lessons with his aunt at two-and-a-half and composing his first work at three. At age seven he began studies in composition, and at the age of ten, gave a concert that included works by Beethoven and Mozart. Curiously, Saint-Saëns' music was regarded with some condescension in his homeland, while in England and the United States he was hailed as France's greatest living composer well into the twentieth century.
“A peasant in a frock-coat”, as one conductor called him, Dvořák was one of a new breed of nationalist composers who emerged during the 19th century, which included Grieg (Norway), Tchaikovsky (Russia), Liszt (Hungary), Chopin (Poland) and Sibelius (Finland). “I am just a plain Czech musician,” he reflected towards the end of his life. I remain what always was: a simple Czech musician”. Although he travelled widely his heart was always in his homeland. Hence, much of the music he composed reflected his native Czechoslovakia. He spent his final years as one of the most sought-after composers in Europe. Brahms even went as far as to offer him his entire personal fortune in an attempt to get him to settle in Vienna.
These are the two composers whose lives and music we studied in October. You can read more about them in the notes linked below and listen to their music by following the YouTube links highlighted in the notes. Some examples follow!
A sample from the video links in the notes:
Enjoy Dvorak's Serenade for Strings - just one of many YouTube links to his music included in the class notes: