Digital resources for French Romantic music

Six Études pour la main gauche op. 135 (Camille Saint-Saëns)




No 1 : Prélude – Allegretto moderato – No 2 : Alla Fuga – Allegro non troppo – No 3 : Moto perpetuo – Allegretto, doux et tranquille – No 4 : Bourrée – No 5 : Élégie – No 6 : Gigue


Composed in Cairo in January 1912, the Six Études pour la main gauche were written for Caroline Montigny-de Serres, who lost the use of her right hand in an accident. Born in 1843, this brilliant pianist, the sister-in-law of Ambroise Thomas, was awarded a first prize at the Paris Conservatoire, then studied with Anton Rubinstein and Liszt. She was Saint-Saëns’ piano duet partner (particularly in Bach’s  C minor Concerto), and often played his second Piano Concerto. The Études op. 135 do not attempt to create the illusion of the type of symphonic playing possible with ten fingers. They are more in the tradition of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Only the Élégie (no. 5) genuinely reflects the rich textures of Romantic piano music. The first two pieces are a Prélude and a Fugue (in a letter to Durand dated 14 February 1912, Saint-Saëns actually described the collection as a set of preludes); the Moto perpetuo (no. 3, to be played without pedal) adopts a linear style of writing reminiscent of some of Bach’s fast movements, while the Bourrée and Gigue (nos. 4 and 6) recall a Baroque suite. Saint-Saëns informed his dedicatee that he had chosen his titles to “make fun of the titles that the oh-so famous Claude [Debussy] gives to his lucubrations”. His Bourrée was first played in public by Édouard Risler on 12 November 1912 in Lausanne (nothing is known about the date of the first performances of the other Études) and seems to have been particularly popular with pianists, since it was frequently programmed in their recitals.

    Person - 1
  • SAINT-SAËNS, Camille (1835-1921)
  • Themes - 2
  • Genre – L’étude, un genre romantique
  • Piano – La « pièce de genre » pianistique