The Organ

Saint-SaŽns and the Organ

Rollin Smith
Pendragon Press
ISBN 0 945193 14 9

Rollin Smith is to be congratulated on an excellent, scholarly yet readable study of Saint SaŽns and his relationship with the King of Instruments. The author has studied, and uses, a wealth of primary source material, including the organist, composer's own letters and manuscripts. In addition, the book is liberally illustrated with a fascinating range of contemporaneous images - people, portraits, programmes, consoles, organ cases - there is even one of Saint-SaŽns wands and another of Widor delivering his eulogy at the composer's tomb.

The bulk of the main part of the book is biographical in content and chronological in order, starting with the early influences on the composer, followed by chapters on Saint-SaŽns and (a) the church of Saint-Merry and (b) the Madeleine, where his famous tenure of office lasted from 1858 to 1877. The next three chapters cover the rest of his life; the seventh and final chapter is an extended analysis and critique of Saint-SaŽns as organist. The book also contains seven appendices. The first consists of five fascinating essays by Saint-SaŽns himself, including intriguing and revealing discourses on the organ, church music and improvisation. The second is a study of the composer's sacred music by Louis Vierne - clearly a devotee, judging by his comments. There follows a list of prize-winners at the Ecole Niedermeyer, with which Saint-SaŽns was associated. The fourth and fifth appendices are perhaps the most interesting for the organ buff: they consist of a list and specifications of organs played by the composer. The appendices are completed by a list of recordings by Saint-SaŽns; his testimonials for harmoniums and pianos; a thematic catalogue of works for harmonium and organ; variant readings of the Trois Rhapsodies sur des cantiques Bretons. There is also an extensive bibliography.

The writing and scholarship are of a very high standard throughout this book. It is a truly impressive tome that should be on every organ music lovers bookshelves. Rollin Smith has set a gold standard for writing in this subject area.

David Baker