Celebrating Saint-Saëns

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Centenary years offer an opportunity to celebrate and perhaps reevaluate the works of significant composers from earlier times, and in 2021 (to be precise, on 16th December) we mark the 100-year anniversary of the death of the great French composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).

Though best known for orchestral works, including the universally-known Carnival of the Animals, the Danse macabre, the ‘Organ’ Symphony, and his concertos (including five for piano and orchestra), Saint-Saëns also composed a significant body of solo piano music which, these days, is too little played.

This is no doubt in part because his Liszt-inspired writing renders Saint-Saëns’ solo piano music inaccessible to all but the most advanced virtuosi. Pedagogy occupied little of the composer’s time: a fairly brief stint at the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris and thereafter occasional coaching (his students including Godowsky). The result: no music composed for formative educational purposes, pre-diploma.

Saint-Saëns’ legacy has suffered in other ways too, including a not entirely fair perception that his music, though sparkling, is essentially superficial. His infamous derision for younger contemporaries such as Debussy and Milhaud no-doubt further alienated him from the public of his later years.

In this revisitation and celebration of Saint-Saëns’ piano music, I will explore three publications from Éditions Durand, who are regarded as the definitive publishers of this repertoire: Œuvres pour piano books I and II, and The Best of Saint-Saëns, a collection of thirteen miscellaneous pieces.

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Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études

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In my recent post Discovering Chopin I included two editions of the complete works, both brought to us by PWM Edition: firstly the celebrated Paderewski Edition beloved by performers, and secondly the more recent scholarly Chopin National Edition, edited by Jan Ekier.

The latter has established itself as a benchmark urtext edition by which other versions are presently judged, although sources of Chopin’s music are so many and surprisingly varied that, often, definitive readings are elusive.

Further underlining this point, were it in any doubt, comes the Complete Chopin New Critical Edition from Edition Peters, prepared under the watchful eyes of editor-in-chief John Rink.

Joining the first six volumes in this work-in-progress series, the latest addition is the Trois Nouvelles Études of 1840, edited by Roy Howat.

I will start with a full review of this new publication, EP 73229, and then gracefully segue into a more detailed consideration of Edition Peters’ Complete Chopin New Critical Edition, and take a quick look at the solo piano issues in the series so far.

Continue reading Frédéric Chopin: Trois Nouvelles Études