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Oratorio de Noël op. 12 (Camille Saint-Saëns)




Oratorio for five soloists (SATBarB), mixed chorus (SATB), string orchestra, harp and organ obbligato, composed in 1858 and premiered on 24 December 1858 at La Madeleine in Paris, with the composer conducting. Dedicated to Clémence de Grandval (1828-1907).


Coming after his unfinished opus Les Israélites sur la montagne d'Oreb (1848), the Oratorio de Noël was the composer’s second contribution to the oratorio genre. He was twenty-three. Composed in twelve days, between 4 and 15 December, the work was premiered on Christmas Eve 1858 at La Madeleine in Paris; Saint-Saëns had taken up the position of organist there at the beginning of that year. Found in several manuscripts showing successive revisions made by Saint-Saëns, particularly on the advice of Franz Liszt, the Oratorio de Noël was not published in score until 1892 by Durand. Set to Latin texts selected by the composer from the Bible and the Catholic liturgy, the oratorio is divided into ten movements, with a Prelude for organ and strings followed by an alternation of choruses, solo passages and pieces for various vocal combinations ranging from duo to quintet. The work is cumulative. The first vocal section, for four soloists and chorus, is of a narrative nature, introducing the story of the Nativity (Luke 2:8-14), while the others are reflections or prayers. The oratorio reaches a climax with the powerful chorus “Quare fremuerunt gentes” (no. 6, “Why do the nations rage”), its force emphasised by the ethereal style of the two pieces for voices, harp and organ that precede and follow it. Two of the movements are often performed independently: the trio “Tecum principium” (no. 7) and the final chorus “Tollite hostias” (no. 10), in the style of a chorale. The composer indicated on the score that his Prelude was written “Dans le style de Séb. Bach”, and according to Howard E. Smither (A History of the Oratorio: The oratorio in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 1977), Saint-Saëns modelled his Oratorio de Noël on Part II of J. S. Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium.

    Person - 1
  • SAINT-SAËNS, Camille (1835-1921)
  • Themes - 2
  • Chœur – La musique chorale au XIXe siècle
  • Genre – L'oratorio
  • Document - 1
  • Lettres à Jules Griset : Camille Saint-Saëns (25 l., 1880-1915)