Guitares et mandolines
is one of Saint-Saëns’ evocations of different musical instruments and is a song to his own text. It was written in 1890 and is one of the most effective of the many French songs which evoke Spain. It is true that the poem is not a masterpiece in itself, but it gives the composer ample opportunity to paint pictures. The repeated notes in the right hand of the accompaniment, an effect which suggests the plectrum at work, are the mark of a piano virtuoso who knows the tricks of the trade (the fingers have to alternate quickly on these repetitions). There is also a teasing use of hemiola, and when sharps and naturals are mentioned in the text (‘dièses, bécarres’) the composer pointedly writes an extra sharp sign above the word ‘dièses’, and takes care that all the melismatic notes of ‘bécarres’ are naturals.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997