French Romanticism Features in Camille Saint-Saens’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) is known as one of the most prominent composers who wrote music during the period of French Romanticism. I should state that Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor written in 1863 for Pablo de Sarasate, a virtuosic violinist, is one of his most recognizable works. While speaking about this composition, I can agree with the words by Parker who claims that “it is enough to say here that, for the public, Saint-Sains means Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, popularized by Sarasate” (568). This composition demonstrates how Saint-Saens interpreted the traditional classical forms in a manner that was typical of French Romanticism and added such techniques as harmonic and Rondo themes, arpeggios, and habanera rhythms to the piece in order to make it vivid. The variety of techniques used in the work also reflects the unique personality of the composer who is famous for being a virtuosic pianist, a conductor, an organist, a teacher, and a critic (Prod’homme and Martens 476; Strasser 362).

While analyzing the composition, I have found that in spite of the use of arpeggios and different scalar passages in the work, the Rondo themes and habanera rhythms have the most striking effects on a listener, and this fact should be discussed in detail. The first Rondo theme appears in the composition after the introductory 36-bar theme, and it can surprise a listener by its lively character in contrast to the melancholic introduction (Saint-Saens 15). This Rondo theme is harmonically complete, and it provides the pattern for the whole composition. I focused on analyzing the first Rondo theme and found that it is rather syncopated. In order to accentuate this feature, Auer and Martens note that “this syncopation upon which … the theme itself is based, recurs on each and every occasion when the theme itself appears, and forms the musical “backbone” of the entire composition” (125). As a result, changes in the theme become more dynamic.

The second variant of the Rondo theme appears in bar 73, and this theme is light, but it is still expressive because habanera dancing rhythms are most emphasized in this part of the composition (Saint-Saens 16). Thus, I should note that the second important feature of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor is the reference to habanera in the Rondo themes as the eclectic dancing music. The word ‘habanera’ means “the thing from Havana” (Wright 294). It was noted by researchers that the use of Cuban and Spanish rhythms was typical of the French Romantic music (Rees 116). It is interesting to pay attention to the ideas stated by Wright, who claimed that the best pieces of music with the Spanish motives were created by French Romantic composers (8). Saint-Saens was also one of those musicians who made tributes to the Cuban and Spanish traditions in his compositions.

Having analyzed Saint-Saens’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, I can state that the secret of the popularity of this composition is in using expressive Rondo themes, lively habanera rhythms, and transitions in patterns that can be performed only by a virtuosic violinist. The contrasts between themes and rhythms in this piece of music add to creating the unique polished style typical of Saint-Saens. Therefore, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor is known as the composition that requires the virtuosic performance, and it still remains interesting to musicians, theorists, and listeners.

Works Cited

Auer, Leopold, and Frederick Martens. Violin Master Works and Their Interpretation. New York: Courier Corporation, 2013. Print.

Parker, David. “Camille Saint-Saëns: A Critical Estimate.” The Musical Quarterly 5.4 (1919): 561-577. Print.

Prod’homme, Jacques-Gabriel, and Frederick Martens. “Camille Saint-Saëns (Oct. 9, 1835 – Dec. 16, 1921).” The Musical Quarterly 8.4 (1922): 469-486. Print.

Rees, Brian. Camille Saint-Saëns: A Life. New York: Faber & Faber, 2012. Print.

Saint-Saens, Camille. Havanaise Op. 83 and Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso Op. 28 for Violin and Piano. New York: Courier Corporation, 1999. Print.

Strasser, Michael Creasman. “Camille Saint-Saëns.” Notes 63.2 (2006): 362-364. Print.

Wright, Craig. Listening to Music. New York: Nelson Education, 2013. Print.