Camille Saint-Saens Epic Organ Symphony

One of my favorite symphonies is by the French Romantic Era composer Camille Saint-Saens – his “Organ Symphony”#3.  This popular symphony which includes a huge symphony orchestra with not only an organ but also a piano for four hands [or sometimes played with two pianos]. It is a beautiful and at the same time dramatic symphony. When the organ enters with a booming chord to begin the final majestic movement, it gives many in the audience [like me] goose bumps! 

Camille Saint-Saens [1835 – 1921]

From Wikipedia:  “Although this symphony seems to follow the normal four-movement structure, and many recordings break it in this way, it was actually written in two movements: Saint-Saëns intended a novel two-movement symphony. The composer did note in his own analysis of the symphony, however, that while it was cast in two movements, “the traditional four movement structure is maintained”.

From the Houston Symphony Orchestra Website on the Organ Symphony: “Ever since its London premiere in 1886, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (nicknamed “the Organ Symphony” for the prominent role that instrument plays in it) has been one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire. It is one of those rare works that instantly entered the canon of masterpieces and has remained there ever since. Its most famous melody, the radiant theme of the finale, has even entered into popular culture: it has been featured in the 1995 movie Babe and at Disney World’s Epcot Center.

Like Beethoven’s Fifth, Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony begins in C minor and ends in C major (a choice Saint-Saëns knew would invite direct comparison), but the journey on which he takes us is rather different. Like Beethoven, Saint-Saëns never provided an explicit program for this symphony, but he did leave clues in his score and the program notes he provided for the Royal Philharmonic Society that point toward a very specific theme: resurrection.

Saint-Saëns does not use the Dies Irae [‘part of the traditional Catholic mass for the dead] as literally as either Berlioz or Liszt did, but the main theme of his symphony is clearly derived from it.”

The second half of the symphony begins with a scherzo that is by turns both demonic and mischievous, during which the Dies Irae theme also reappears, “more agitated than its predecessors”. Then, in the great turning point of the symphony, after the unrest of the beginning, the serene yearning of the Adagio and the vivacious play of shadow and light in the scherzo, the organ enters in all its glory, followed by the symphony’s most famous melody, which Saint-Saëns describes as a “totally transformed,” major key version of the Dies Irae theme.”

The article from the Houston Symphony Orchestra website, ends: “Regardless of one’s own beliefs (or lack thereof), Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony has left audiences feeling spiritually renewed from 1886 to 2015, whether they be in London, Paris, Tokyo, Caracas, or even Houston.

To read this entire article from the Houston Symphony Orchestra website, please click here.

I consider this dramatic, majestic symphony, epic. Saint-Saens scored this masterpiece in C minor, with 2 movements [with multiple parts]: 1. Adagio – Allegro Moderato – poco Adagio; and 2. Allegro Moderato – Presto – Maestoso – Allegro.  

Please turn up the volume and enjoy this epic “organ Symphony” from the great French Romantic composer, Camille Saint-Saens.

Note: The final amazing part with its concert hall shaking organ introduction begins at the 28:16 mark.

Camille Saint-Saens: Symphony #3 in C minor, “Organ Symphony”:

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