Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No 2
Premiered Today in 1868



Have you ever thought about writing a full-fledged piano concerto in a little less than 3 week? For most of us, this seems an almost impossible task, but it was not a problem for Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). You see, Anton Rubinstein was in Paris for a series of concerts in 1868, and Saint-Saëns was in the audience. The two musicians talked backstage, and Rubinstein expressed his desire to conduct a program with Saint-Saëns as the soloist. Since a performing venue was not available on short notice, Saint-Saëns suggested that he compose a new work for a premiere performance 3 weeks later!

Anton Rubinstein

Anton Rubinstein

Rubinstein agreed, and Saint-Saëns rushed home to compose his 2nd Piano Concerto. As you may know, Saint-Saëns was one of the greatest of all music prodigies. He produced his first composition at age 3, and publically performed a Beethoven violin sonata at age 4. In a legendary concert at the Salle Pleyel, and at the tender age of 10, he offered to play as an encore any of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas from memory!

Painting of Anton Rubinstein  by Repin

Painting of Anton Rubinstein by Repin

Composing a piano concerto in 3 weeks is one thing, getting it ready for performance is a completely different matter. In fact, Saint-Saëns finished the composition in 17 days, which left only 4 days for learning and memorizing the solo part and for rehearsing the orchestra. Nevertheless, the premiere took place on 13 May 1868, and Saint-Saëns confessed after the performance that his playing had been poor. Some listeners felt that the first movement was poorly constructed and the finale needed revision. But they immediately liked the Scherzo, a movement that has been popular ever since. Critical opinion however was not as complementary. The pianist and composer Sigismond Stojowski, noting the abrupt shifts of temperaments and moods, suggested that the concerto “began with Bach and ended with Offenbach.” In the event, Rubinstein returned the favor in a subsequent concert by playing the solo part in one of his concertos, with Saint-Saëns conducting.

Camille Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No 2 in G minor, Op 22

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