Saint-Saëns’s final work involving the cello was La muse et le poète
, Op 132, in which that instrument is joined by a violin to form what he referred to as a conversation between the two instruments instead of a debate between two virtuosos. The background to the work’s composition has its bizarre side. A statue of the composer had been exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1907. A female admirer, Mme Caruette, wanted to present it to the town of Dieppe, but strictly a law forbade the erection of statues to the living. However, political intervention solved that problem and the statue duly found a place in the town’s theatre, allowing Saint-Saëns to make one of his tart sallies, to the effect that since he must be dead to have a statue of himself put up, he wouldn’t need to make a speech. When the good Mme Caruette rejoined her ancestors in 1909, he wrote a one-movement piano trio in her memory which his publisher, Jacques Durand, insisted on giving the title it now bears, much to his fury. He then orchestrated it and the work was premiered in London in 1910 by Ysaÿe and Hollman. A critic of the Parisian premiere found in it tenderness, sombreness and pain as well as an inner drama. Beyond these qualities, listeners need not make an effort to discern a form for the piece: its improvisational structure was deliberate, as a hit against the Germans whose insistence on formal rigour was, he felt, destroying music’s soul.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2014