Saint-Saëns’s most durable contributions to the chamber literature have been his sonatas: two for violin and piano, two for cello and piano, and one each for oboe, clarinet and bassoon, each with piano accompaniment. It was during the last year of his life that Saint-Saëns conceived the idea of writing a sonata for each of the woodwind instruments, thus enhancing their repertoire and providing three monumental works for the sonata literature. Starting with Oboe Sonata
in D major Op 166, dedicated to Louis Bas, an extraordinary oboe virtuoso, he continued with the Clarinet Sonata
in E flat major Op 167, dedicated to Auguste Perier, a fine player of astonishing technique, and lastly, with the Bassoon Sonata
in G major Op 168, written for Léon Letellier, the first bassoon of the Opéra and the Société des Concerts. Saint-Saëns had intended also to compose sonatas for flute and for cor anglais but he died before he was able to complete the project. In each sonata the piano is skilfully integrated with the wind instrument. The distinctive timbre and versatility of each instrument are expertly displayed. The spare, evocative, classical lines, haunting melodies, and superb formal structures underline these beacons of the neoclassical movement. Though the works were not performed during his lifetime, Saint-Saëns did have the satisfaction of knowing that the sonatas were approved by their dedicatees. Their importance in the woodwind repertoire cannot be exaggerated.
from notes by Sabina Teller Ratner © 2005