The First Existentialist?

Camile Saint-Saens is another one of those child prodigy musical geniuses who could read and write at 3, was composing at 4, and performing in public at 5.  He was an expert Mathmatician and in addition to scholarly articles on acoustics, occult sciences, Roman theatre decoration, and ancient instruments, wrote a volume on Philosophy, Problems and Mysteries, about Science and Art replacing Religion; the pessimistic and atheistic ideas of which read like an early version of Existentialism.  He also wrote a book of poetry and a theatrical farce as well as several travelogues.

He was considered the greatest organist in the world by Liszt but other contemporaries found his style, while technically flawless, mechanical and devoid of spirit.  When he played he sat rock still, only his fingers, hands, and arms moving.

Speaking of philosophy, he underwent some remarkable changes of mind in the course of his life.  Initially a big fan of Wagner he cooled on him considerably after the Franco-Prussian War.  From being a ground breaking progressive in his early career, he came to despise the work of Impressionists like Debussy, Strauss, and Stravinsky.

Today, of course, his most performed work is the one he most hated- Carnival of the Animals; so much so that he suppressed it’s publication until after his death for fear it would make him look less “serious”.  Now it’s a staple of Children’s Concerts along with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.  As a child I loved the 12th Movement, Fossils, because of that crazy Xylophone.

I wanted to find Opus 128, his film score for The Assassination of the Duke of Guise– he was the first major composer to do one.  Alas it appears to be unavailable except to those who have better YouTube search skills than I.  Instead you will have to settle for an episode of The Shadow which uses the middle section of Le rouet d’Omphale Op. 31 as its theme.

This episode, Triangle of Death, features Orson Wells as The Shadow.  Also Borodin.  It was posted by TheRadioGhost in three parts, the last 2 of which are below the fold.

Part 2

Part 3


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  1. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit.  Crime does not pay.  The Shadow knows.

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