The Caprice sur des airs danois et russes
Op 79 was specially composed for Paul Taffanel (flute), Georges Gillet (oboe), and Charles Turban (clarinet) who joined Saint-Saëns for a series of seven concerts organized by the Russian Red Cross in St Petersburg during Easter Week of April 1887. He dedicated the work to the Tsarina, Maria Feodorovna, who had been born Princess Sophie Fredericka Dagmar, daughter of the King of Denmark, and hence the reason why Danish and Russian themes, supplied to him by musicologist Julien Tiersot, were incorporated. The interesting effects produced by the arrangement of the instruments greatly pleased the court, and although the piece had not been published at its premiere, Saint-Saëns made few modifications for the final version. The great success prompted the same group to repeat their performance in London two months later. The Caprice
exploits the wonderful hues and nuances of the woodwind palette: both the expressive and the mournful are interspersed with sparkling passages for the piano. The lower register of the clarinet and bassoon are often used with great effect in the articulation of the authentic Russian and Danish melodies. The tempo varies from lively, energetic sections to slow, expressive, improvisational themes in duple and triple meters, played in solo and ensemble combinations.
from notes by Sabina Teller Ratner © 2005