Hyperion Records

Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 33
composer
1872; first performed on 19 January 1873

Recordings
'Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos' (CDA68002)
Saint-Saëns: Cello Concertos
Buy by post £10.50 CDA68002  NEW   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Details
Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Movement 2: Allegretto con moto –
Movement 3: Tempo primo

Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 33
EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op 33, was informed, certainly, by one friendship and possibly by another. As a student, he had been taught piano accompaniment by Auguste Franchomme, the cellist to whom Chopin had dedicated his cello sonata and who developed a particular light bowing technique usually described as ‘French’. Another possible influence on the work was the death in January 1872 of his beloved great-aunt Charlotte at the age of ninety-one, after which he cancelled all engagements for a month. It is arguable that the tone of the work combines a lightness of touch with deep expressiveness, not least in what one biographer has called the ‘haunting otherworldliness’ of its melodies.

Yet a third factor in the work might well have been the incipient recovery of Paris after the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune. In February 1871 the new Société Nationale de Musique, with Saint-Saëns as one of its founder members, had promoted its first concert under the banner ‘Ars gallica’, and the impetus was thereby given to young French composers to outdo the Germans in every way possible. It was partly pressure from the Société that pushed the staid Concerts du Conservatoire into accepting the premiere of Saint-Saëns’s first concerto on 19 January 1873, but more the request from the established cellist Auguste Tolbecque—without which, the conductor kindly informed the composer, the work would not have had a hope.

The first cello concerto has always been one of Saint-Saëns’s most popular pieces, Casals choosing it for his London debut in 1905. Tunes abound, but not in any disorderly way: the main themes of the outer movements move upwards, the second themes downwards; if, that is, the opening cello motif can be called a ‘theme’—the composer’s biographer Brian Rees refers to it as ‘an artefact rather than a melodious outburst’. The central minuet is a movement of pure delight and, in those uncertain times, no doubt reassured Parisian audiences that French culture had after all survived, one critic remarking that here the composer was making up for a recent ‘divergence from classicism’. The return of earlier material in the third movement may owe something to Saint-Saëns’s study of the cyclic patterns found in Liszt, to whom he remained indebted all his life.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2014

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

   English   Français   Deutsch