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Élégie in D major for violin and piano op. 143

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In 1915, at the request of the French Government, Saint-Saëns represented France at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco, California. While there he composed his Élégie in D major, op. 143, which, as an expression of gratitude for his hospitality, he dedicated to the violinist Henry Heyman. Completed in July 1915 and published by Durand the following month, the piece was premiered on 23 November 1916 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, as part of a benefit concert to raise funds for the Ligue fraternelle des enfants de France; the violinist was Gabriel Willaume, and the pianist was Saint-Saëns himself. The following day he wrote to Heyman: “I am pleased to announce that your Elégie made its first public appearance in Paris yesterday and was a complete success. I had as my partner a violinist who possesses the most brilliant qualities, which he exercises on one of the most wonderful instruments by Guarnerius that one may ever hope to see. The Élégie’s reception makes me foresee a fine career for this short composition, for which I am indebted to you, for without you I would never have written it.” After that, he often performed the piece, as we learn from another letter to Heyman, written in 1919. Unlike many elegies, the music here expresses neither grief nor sorrow. The melody, which evolves in triple time peppered with hemiolas, gives the impression of having been invented as it unfolds. A passage in the middle calls for greater virtuosity, with light volutes and trills, then leads to an episode that is more tense. On the whole, however, Saint-Saëns favours clarity in his writing, and a cantabile showing subdued lyricism.


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