The Septet in E flat major
Op 65, composed for the unusual combination of trumpet, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and piano, was written at the request of Émile Lemoine for his chamber music society which he whimsically entitled ‘La Trompette’. This society was founded in 1867 and Saint-Saëns regularly performed there along with other well known musicians of the time including Louis Diémer, Martin-Pierre Marsick, and Isidor Philipp. In this neoclassical work employing seventeenth-century dance forms, the two violins, viola and cello parts were often doubled in performance with an additional string quartet. To Lemoine, Saint-Saëns confessed in October 1907: ‘When I think how much you pestered me to make me produce, against my better judgment, this piece that I did not want to write and which has become one of my great successes, I never understood why.’ Lemoine had implored Saint-Saëns for many years to compose a work combining the trumpet with the instruments ordinarily available to the society. Jokingly he would respond that he could create a work for guitar and thirteen trombones. In 1879 he presented to Lemoine a piece entitled Préambule
as a Christmas present and played it at their first concert in January 1880. Pleased with the result, he promised that he would complete the work with the Préambule
as the first movement. True to his word he performed the complete composition for the first time on 28 December 1880 with himself at the piano, Sylvain Teste with the trumpet, the quartet – Martin-Pierre Marsick, Guillaume Rémy, Louis van Waefelghem and Jules Delsart, doubled with excellent effect by a second quartet of Émile Mendels, Austruy, Johannès Wolff and Louis Heggyesi – and the double bass played by Lucien Dereul. The four movements, labelled Préambule, Menuet, Intermède and Gavotte et Final
, reveal the classical proclivity of the composer. However, the ingenious integration of the trumpet, namesake of this chamber music organization, with the string quintet and piano, is rare in musical literature.
from notes by Sabina Teller Ratner © 2005