Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
Composers who prefer to “play it cool”, creating music of formal elegance and expressive refinement, have long been vulnerable to accusations of slick superficiality. Mendelssohn is one such, as is Saint-Saëns, yet Mozart – who epitomised these qualities – gets off scot-free. How come? It’s obvious, really – he was Classical, while they were Romantics. So, it seems, they are guilty of nothing more than confounding a few ill-founded expectations. The arch-Romantic Tchaikovsky knew better, holding all three in high esteem. It’s very strange that such misperceptions should persist, in these days when we’re told it’s good to be “cool”.
Even in an out-and-out blockbuster like the Organ Symphony, Saint-Saëns’s classical “cool” is present and correct. Indeed, his vast œuvre glitters with gems to delight the delicate sensibilities of gentle folk – or anyone else who cares to listen! The ever-popular Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is no exception. Largely on account of the solo part’s frequent nods in the general direction of Paganini, it’s often described as a “brilliant showpiece”.
To my mind, though, showpiece brilliance comes a poor second to Saint-Saëns’s apt adjective, “capriccioso”, which is liberally applied to the Introduction as well as the Rondo. Saint-Saëns infuses the former with a subtle exotic odour, injecting excitability into its predominantly wistful mood. He loosens the stays of the rondo’s implied structural rigidity, justifying his indiscretion with some ingenious formal teasing, and threatening an imposing virtuoso cadenza, only to naughtily cut it off before it gets too “heavy”. Now, that is “cool”.
© Paul Serotsky, 2008
© Paul Serotsky
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