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Camille Saint-Saëns correspondence

Identifier: Saint-Saens

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Scope and Contents

The collection is comprised of over 200 letters written between 1845 and 1921. The letters are primarily written by Saint-Saëns to fellow composers, musicians, and other historical and cultural figures. A few letters are addressed to Saint-Saëns from these persons. The earliest letter in the collection was written in 1845– the same year he made his piano performance debut at age ten. The last letter dates from November of 1921 just over a month before his death in December.


  • 1845 - 1921


Biographical / Historical

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was a French composer, organist, music historian and writer who contributed to nearly every genre of 19th century French music. He was especially successful at writing sonatas, chamber music, symphonies and concertos but also composed oratorios and operas. Through his own compositional output and his influence on his students and successors, he is an important figure in the development of 20th century music. 

Saint-Saëns, like Mozart (to whom he was often compared) was a child prodigy and made his piano performance debut at age ten. He entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1848 studying organ with Benoist and winning the premier prix in 1851. While at the Conservatoire, he also studied composition with Halévy and took lessons in accompaniment and voice. His "Ode à Sainte-Cécile" won first prize in a competition organized by the Société Sainte-Cécile, Bordeaux, in 1852. He won the Société Sainte-Cécile competition with the Symphony Urbs Romana in 1857 and contributed to the complete edition of the works of Gluck. He later worked on editions of works by Beethoven, Liszt, Mozart, Rameau and the French clavecinists. 

He won early friendship and admiration from Pauline Viardot, Gounod, Rossini and Berlioz and the admiration of Liszt. He only held one formal teaching position at the École Niédermeyer. While his tenure was brief it was influential as he taught and became life-long friends with André Messager, Eugène Gigout, and Gabriel Fauré. He became especially close with Fauré who would later teach prominent 20th century French composer, Maurice Ravel. Both Fauré and Ravel were heavily influenced by Saint-Saëns and regarded him a genius.

Saint-Saëns co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique, with Romain Bussine in 1871. Members included Alexis de Castillon, Fauré, César Franck and Eduoard Lalo. The Société encouraged the performance of music by living French composers and gave important premières of works by Saint-Saëns, Chabrier, Debussy, Dukas and Ravel. He eventually broke with the Société when they decided to program the works of foreign composers.

Even as his popularity in France began to wane, he was still regarded as the greatest living French composer in the United States and Britain. Some of his best known and most successful works include "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso," op. 28 (1863), the Third (“Organ”) Symphony, op. 78 (1866), the Second Piano Concerto, op. 22 (1868), "Danse macabre," op. 40 (1874), the Fourth Piano Concerto, op. 44 (1875), the oratorio "Le déluge," op. 45 (1875), the opera "Samson et Dalia," op. 47 (1877), the Third Violin Concerto, op. 61 (1880), and the suite "Le carnaval des animaux," (1886).


2 Boxes

Language of Materials



The Camille Saint-Saëns Correspondence Collection is comprised of over 200 letters written by or to Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) between 1845 and 1921. Correspondents include fellow musicians and composers as well as other historical and cultural figures of the era. Saint-Saëns was a celebrated composer who wrote in nearly every genre of French music at the end of the 19th century. His compositions and and influence on students and later composers make him an important bridge to later 20th century music styles.


Letters are arranged by correspondent and then chronologically within each folder. For correspondents identifiable only by first or last name, the folders are labeled with the name given and "unknown" is used to indicate the missing name(s).

For unknown correspondents, letters have been arranged by date. The last folder contains letters without and identifiable correspondent or date.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were acquired individually or in sets by the Northwestern University Music Library beginning in 1970 and continuing through the present-day.

Related Materials

The majority of the letters forming the Saint-Saëns Correspondence Collection were originally part of the Musical Autographs Collection. Subsequent acquisitions of Saint-Saëns letters prompted the creation of the current Saint-Saëns correspondence collection.

Some additional Saint-Saëns correspondence and materials are part of the Moldenhauer Collection at Northwestern.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Alan Akers and Nicholas Ritter, 2017.

Finding aid written by Alan K. Akers, July 2017.

Guide to the Camille Saint-Saëns correspondence, 1859-1921
In Progress
Alan K. Akers
July, 2017
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Library Details

Part of the Music Library Repository

Deering Library, Level 3
1970 Campus Drive
Evanston IL 60208-2300 US