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Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Romantic Era > Symphony No. 5 in C Minor. Op. 78 - Saint-Saëns


Symphony No. 5 in C Minor. Op. 78

Camille Saint-Saëns
(1835-1921)



1. Adagio. Allegro moderato. Poco adagio.
2. Allegro moderato. Presto. Maestoso. Allegro.

Saint-Saëns’ Fifth Symphony was written for the London Philharmonic Society; and its first performance, July 19, 1886, was conducted by the composer himself. For this occasion the composer prepared an analysis of its contents and structure for the program, which is followed in this analysis. After a slow and plaintive introduction in violins and oboes, the string quartet gives out the first theme, sombre and agitated in character, which, after transformation by the wind instruments, leads to a second subject, marked by greater repose. After a short development, presenting the two themes simultaneously, the second reappears in new and striking form, though brief in its duration. This is followed by a fresh transformation of the first theme, through the restlessness of which are heard at intervals the plaintive notes of the opening Adagio. Various episodes, introducing a gradual feeling of repose, lead to the Adagio, in D flat, the subject of which is given out in the violins, violas, and cellos, sustained by organ chords. It is then assigned to clarinets, horn and trombone, accompanied by the divided strings. After a fanciful and elaborate violin variation, the second transformation of the initial theme of the Allegro reappears, restoring the old restlessness, which is still further augmented by dissonant harmonies. The principal theme of the Adagio then return, this time played by a violin, viola, and cello solo, accompanied by the chords of the organ and the persistent rhythm in triplets of the preceding episodes. The movement closes with a Coda, "mystical in sentiment," says the composer.





The second movement, Allegro moderato, opens with a vigorous figure, which is at once followed by a third transformation of the initial theme of the first movement, in more agitated style than the others, and limited to a fantastic character, which declares itself in a tumultuous Presto, through which flash at interval the arpeggios and rapid scale passages of the pianoforte, accompanied by a syncopated rhythm in the orchestra, and interrupted at last by an expressive motive. After the repetition of the Allegro moderato, a second Presto is introduced, in which shortly appears a calm, earnest figure for trombones, in striking contrast with the fantastic character of the first Presto. There is an evident conflict between the two, ending in the defeat of the latter; and after a vague reminiscence of the initial theme of the first movement, a Maestoso, C minor, announces the ultimate triumph of the new and earnest figure. The initial theme of the first movement in its new form is next stated by the divided strings and the pianoforte, four hands, and taken up in organ and full orchestra. After development in three-bar rhythm, there is an episode for organ, followed by a pastoral theme twice repeated. A Coda, in which the initial theme by a last transformation appears as a violin passage, finishes this unique work.





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