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Élégie in F major for violin and piano op. 160

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Saint-Saëns composed this short piece in January 1920, during a stay in Algiers. He dedicated it to his friend Charles de Galland, who was an amateur violinist and headmaster of one of the city’s lycées. But he also conceived it as a tribute to Alexis de Castillon (1838-1873), as he told the organist and composer Philippe Bellenot: “Castillon, who was a great friend of mine and whose untimely death was a great misfortune for French music, would often play an eight-bar phrase which he loved but never used. I had always had the idea of setting it, as one would set a pearl, and I had always shied away from that inconvenient task.” In Élégie, that phrase is stated first (between the letters A and B in the score) in a tempo Poco più lento, dolcissimo e molto espressivo. Then the music quickens in readiness for its reappearance, fortissimo and appassionato, in the high register. The first quotation of the phrase is preceded by an episode with the violin tranquilly playing a melody, accompanied by repeated chords; the same material later reappears in the coda. The expressiveness of this piece, without melancholy or pathos (a feature shared with the composer’s other Élégie, op. 143), perhaps explains in part its success. On 14 November 1920 Saint-Saëns wrote to Galland: “I recently went on a concert tour with the charming violinist Willaume, and we presented your elegy everywhere, with great success. You bring it luck.” By February of that year, he had completed a piano transcription of the piece, which he premiered on 6 August 1921 at the Casino in Dieppe.


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