- Camille Saint-Saëns, 1835–1921: A Thematic Catalogue of His Complete Works, Volume II: The Dramatic Works by Sabina Teller Ratner
The voluminous oeuvre of Camille Saint-Saëns surely deserves a catalogue raisonné, if only to demonstrate the prodigious creativity of a most prolific composer and to document the eight-decade career of a major musical force on the world stage during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not surprisingly, its realization has required much time; the present volume follows the first (Sabina Teller Ratner, Camille Saint-Saëns,1835–1921: A Thematic Catalogue of His Complete Works, Volume I: The Instrumental Works [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002]; reviewed in Notes 59, no. 4 [June 2003]: 914–16) by a decade, while the release of the third installment, devoted to Saint-Saëns’s vocal and choral music, has not yet been announced. Volume I won the Vincent H. Duckles Award in 2004, given by the Music Library Association for the best book-length bibliography or other research tool in music that year. Accordingly, the bar is high for Volume II, but it does not disappoint.
In her preface to Volume II, Sabina Teller Ratner describes the diversity of dramatic works profiled: “The subjects of Saint-Saëns’s compositions range from the historical to the fantastic, encompassing biblical, classical, mythological and exotic themes, and works of Japanese, Persian, and Egyptian inspiration. Tragedy and comedy are both represented” (p. ix). While Saint-Saëns authored only one operatic libretto of his own, that for his Greek-themed one-act opera Hélène (1904), Ratner relates that he often adapted and added to what his librettists gave him, and participated in performances of his works whenever possible, shaping and shepherding his artistic conceptions in an almost paternal way (p. ix). We also learn that some of Saint-Saëns’s inspiration for his dramatic works came from exploration in libraries and archives such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where, for instance, he encountered the dancing manual Orchéso-graphie (1589) of Thoinot Arbeau, which he recognized had informed the later Le maître à danser (1725) of Pierre Rameau, so essential to understanding authentic eighteenth-century dance (p. x). And it was at the Bibliothèque nationale, he admitted in a letter to the critic Camille Bellaigue cited by Ratner, where he collected the majority of the celebrated airs de danse so evocative of the French baroque included in his grand opera of 1890, Ascanio (p. x). Perhaps most surprising, Ratner reveals that Saint-Saëns even studied the metric structure of Latin verse for rhythmic inspiration in composing the ballets included within his operas Henry VIII (1883) and Ascanio (1890), as well as his incidental music for the play Antigone (1893) (p. x). Such pre-compositional research surely anticipates what would become common among twentieth-century composers, especially those involved with neoclassicism.
The body of Volume II features entries for Saint-Saëns’s operas, such as La princesse jaune (1872) and L’Ancêtre (1906), as well as his ballet Javotte (1896), in addition to incomplete instances of these two genres. There are also entries for his incidental music, including the two plein air spectacles involving spoken text, symphonic interludes, choruses, and ballets originally conceived for the Arènes de Béziers, Déjanire (1898) and Parysatis (1911). But some readers might be surprised to learn that other separate sections of the book detail a variety of lesser-known works, like much briefer scènes lyriques and scènes dramatiques, plus one of the silent film scores, commissioned in 1908 for the historical drama L’assassinat du duc de Guise, as well as collections of comic episodes and melodramas. Further, there are short sections that profile Saint-Saëns’s additions to and restorations of other composers’ works, including operas [End Page 431] of Gluck, Lully, Rameau, and Charpentier, and...