No 1: E major
No 2: D major
No 3: A minor / F major
The theme of the first Rhapsodie has been identified as a ‘Cantique des missionaires’ and the secondary theme of the second as a Breton Noël. In post-Revolution organ repertoire only the fugue retained its status as art music and just as the Te Deum became a vehicle for hunting and battle pieces the Noël was appropriated for patriotic songs. The tradition of organ Noëls in France can, however, be traced back to the seventeenth century, arguably reaching its zenith in the works of Daquin. It is this pre-Revolutionary tradition that Saint-Saëns reflects in his Op 7, and whilst the thematic material for the third of the set has not been identified, both the first theme in A minor and the musette in F major owe something to Daquin. Saint-Saëns was evidently pleased with the work and he was quick to transcribe it in versions for piano four hands and harmonium. Having performed the work himself on numerous occasions he returned to it in 1891 when he orchestrated the outer movements under the new title of Rapsodie bretonne (Op 7 bis). It is probable that having lived with the work Saint-Saëns felt that these movements belonged together. Aesthetically they share much in common and despite the two sections of the orchestral score it is clearly conceived as one work. It is possible that the composer considered the second movement of Op 7 less suitable for orchestration, although given the size of the orchestra he deployed this seems unlikely. Less likely still is that he didn’t think the piece worthy of further attention; it is a fabulous work, quite disarming in its musical honesty. Although published together under a single opus number, the collection does not form a unified musical entity.
from notes by Andrew-John Smith © 2012