Camille Saint-SaŽns (1835-1921)
Septet in E Flat Major Op.65
Never one to refuse a technical challenge, Saint-SaŽns
took on a stiff one in 1881 in composing a septet for the unusual combination of trumpet,
two violins, viola, cello, double-bass and piano. The problem was balance, but his
instrumental wizardry produced a work that became more popular than he truly enjoyed when
he considered that some of his more elaborate works were under-valued. Composed in E flat,
the Septet calls for a trumpet in that key, but an alternative part for the commoner B
flat trumpet is available.
In the opening bars a flourish of semiquavers heralds the
entry of the trumpet, whose fanfare figures are echoed by strings and piano. Then loud
piano arpeggios punctuate the fanfares. After a pause the tempo quickens with a march-like
theme. An arching string phrase makes an expressive contrast, but the piano arpeggios and
trumpet fanfares soon return and the movement reaches a fortissimo climax.
Trumpet and violins in octaves introduce the first strain
of the minuet, while the strings have most of the second. The double-bass is silent in the
central trio section, which has a flowing theme for trumpet and strings.
The C minor Interlude evokes a nostalgic mood with an
arch-shaped theme given out in sequence as if in a slow fugato. The piano breaks
into a strenuous chordal theme. Then the initial theme is recollected.
For the first part of the last movement Saint-SaŽns offers
a gavotte. After a trio section led by the trumpet the gavotte is repeated, leading to the
quicker, strongly-accented finale proper and an animated coda.
© Eric Mason