Customer Review

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating reading, 3 Mar 2008
This review is from: Musical Memories (Illustrated Edition) (Dodo Press) (Paperback)
This book is a short but fascinating insight into the mind of French composer Charles Camille Saint-Saens, made famous for his third "organ" symphony, Danse Macabre, Carnival of the Animals etc...

Although I was expecting a collection of formal, autobiographical memoirs (like those of Berlioz), in fact this is merely a collection of the composer's opinions, tastes, and memories, fascinating though they are. In order, the chapters are on childhood memories, the conservatoire, Victor Hugo, the opera-comiqué, Louis Gallet, origins of opera plots, the purpose of art, science & art, "anarchy in music", the organ, Haydn, Liszt, Berlioz's Requiem, Pauline Viardot, Ophee, Delsarte, Seghers, Rossini, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, the English Victorian Royal family, and (rather strangely) a selection of memories of painters owning violins.

The quality of content is varied - sometimes absolutely fascinating and sometimes dry, irrelevant, and uninteresting. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the organ and Meyerbeer. However, the standard of writing is consistently of a high standard, reflecting the writer's natural intelligence, although I do think the text has probably lost something in translation (there are also a few linguistic inaccuracies and some unusual wording in places, probably due to the translator). Each chapter is illustrated with a photograph of its subject, and the overall presentation of the book is of a very high standard from the Dodo Press (who specialise in publishing rare and out-of-print books). I would have liked a forward or introduction from the publisher/editor outlining how the texts came to be written, their historical significance, etc., but this was, sadly, non-existent.

For those interested in Parisian life and society after Berlioz, particularly surrounding musicians and artisans (although there is content to interest everyone) this is a must-read, but this is NOT Saint-Saens' attempt at an autobiography. I enjoyed reading it, but probably won't take it off the shelf again for another few years.
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