Camille Saint-Saëns

Symphony No. 3 in C minor ("Organ"), Op. 78

    Description by John Palmer

    The London Philharmonic Society commissioned the Symphony No. 3 from Saint-Saëns, much as it had Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Saint-Saëns directed the first performance in London on May 19, 1886. Although he lived until 1921, Saint-Saëns would not compose another symphony. He later explained: "With it I have given all I could give. What I did I could not achieve again." He had intended to dedicate the piece to Liszt, but the score was published after Liszt's death with the inscription, "Á la Memoire de Franz Liszt."

    The Symphony in C minor shows Saint-Saëns' use of thematic transformation, also present in the overture Spartacus and the Fourth Piano Concerto. This technique Saint-Saëns observed in the symphonic poems of Liszt, as well as in Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. Following their lead, Saint-Saëns takes his principal theme through transformations throughout his Third Symphony. To the typical forces of a large orchestra he added his and Liszt's primary instruments, the organ and piano. Saint-Saëns cast the symphony in two large sections, but each of these is in two clear parts, creating a traditional four-movement work.

    After an Adagio introduction, the tempo shifts to Allegro moderato and the strings perform the main theme of the first movement, which incorporates the chant at the beginning of the Dies irae, a melody associated with both death and, in part because of the Totentanz, Liszt. The melody exhibits an AABB pattern, which is typical of the composer's works, and is the main idea, or "motto" theme, of the entire symphony. This restless theme is transformed and eventually gives way to a new, calmer idea. Afterward, these two themes appear simultaneously in the development section before a return brings more transformational episodes and prepares for the slow "movement," in D flat major.

    Strings, supported by organ chords, perform the main theme of the second movement, Adagio, which is the best known section of the Third Symphony. Woodwinds take the peaceful theme and vary it until a new transformation of the "motto" theme injects contrasting, restless energy. A return of the Adagio theme rounds off the movement. Near the end we hear a brilliant mixture of woodwinds with reed stops on the organ.

    An aggressive, brief theme opens the Scherzo, a transformation of the motto contained in the low string outburst that follows the first phrase. When the tempo changes to Presto, the piano enters with rapid, rising arpeggios and scales, played several times on different harmonies. The Scherzo material returns, and what seems like a reprise of the Presto section introduces a new theme, played by the lower instruments under busy figurations and anticipating the finale.

    The finale opens with a powerful chord played on the organ. Yet another transformation of the "motto" theme appears; this time its ties with the Dies irae are very clear. A few quiet statements follow before the organ and orchestra join in a powerful presentation of the transformed theme. After a development section, the piece closes with all the available forces in C major.

    Parts/Movements

    1. 1. Adagio - Allegro moderato
    2. Poco Adagio
    3. 2. Allegro moderato - Presto
    4. Maestoso - Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Erato
    2019 Hyperion CDA 68201
    2018 Sony Classical 88985495052
    2018 Deutsche Grammophon
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886691
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797477
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295886738
    2017 Warner Classics 560476
    2017 Warner Classics
    2017 Warner Classics 0190295755553
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2016 Erato 557140
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 002894822952
    2016 Decca / Philips 4788977
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Erato 0825646154975
    2015 Denon Classics
    2015 Analekta AN 28779
    2015 Naxos 8573139
    2015 Naxos NBD 0045
    2015 Naxos 8573331
    2015 Reference Recordings RR 136
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 London Philharmonic Orchestra / LPO LPO 0081
    2014 Seattle Symphony SSM 1002
    2014 Warner Classics 2564628144
    2013 Sony Classical 88883769482
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 Decca / Mercury 4785092
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94618
    2012 Naxos 8501057
    2012 Brilliant Classics 94360
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4783363
    2012 Atoll ACD 116
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4779969
    2012 SOMM SOMMB 32
    2012 ABC Classics 344862
    2011 Helicon Classics 029646
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099908520
    2011 Cascavelle 3136
    2011 Musicales Actes Sud 04
    2011 Challenge Classics CC72383
    2010 BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2010 Sony Classical 8869768365
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999906820
    2010 DA Records / Zebralution
    2010 EMI Classics
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 ATMA Classique 2540
    2009 Scribendum 035
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records 00795041971265
    2009 Classic FM / Decca CFMFW 36
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Decca
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Decca 4781734
    2008 Berlin Classics 0149362
    2008 Decca 4674332
    2008 Cypres Records 7610
    2008 Decca 4758220
    2008 Opus KURA 7035
    2008 Erato / Maestro Music 4696599
    2007 Urania URN 22313
    2007 Philips 4767417
    2007 Amado Classics 4000
    2007 Vista Vera 96009
    2007 Octave, Les Productions 23326
    2007 Cala Records 4032
    2007 Regis Records 1262
    2007 Apex
    2007 Tuxedo Music TUXCD 1079
    2007 Ondine 1094
    2007 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946382233
    2006 Brilliant 92386
    2006 Berlin Classics 0013742
    2006 ATMA Classique 22331
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 459185
    2005 Berlin Classics 0013582
    2005 Brilliant 92777
    2005 Silverline Records 284207
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Mercury 4756268
    2004 Universal Classics 000173602
    2004 Silverline Records 288231
    2004 Telarc Distribution 80634
    2004 Telarc Distribution 60634
    2004 RCA Red Seal 61387
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 000020302
    2003 Sony Classical 87277
    2003 EMI Classics 585186
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Deutsche Grammophon 474612
    2003 PentaTone Classics 5186116
    2003 Telarc Distribution 80274
    2003 Audite 92506
    2002 Cala Records 1032
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 573512
    2001 JVC Compact Discs 2
    2000 Amadis 7141
    2000 Newport Classic 10010
    2000 Sonatina 531
    1999 Angel Records / Warner Classics 7243573430
    1999 Platinum Entertainment 3855
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459 070-2GCC11
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459044
    1998 Lys 376
    1998 IMP Classics 660001
    1997 Teldec 98416
    1997 Point Classics 267029
    1997 Erato 45696
    1997 EG Records 701582
    1996 Sony Classical 53979
    1996 Intersound 2512
    1995 Seraphim UK 568525
    1995 Royal Classics 6440
    1995 ZYX Music 4197
    1995 Berlin Classics 0021382
    1995 IMP Classics 2010
    1995 Decca 4445522
    1994 BIS 555
    1994 Dorian 90200
    1994 RCA 902662562
    1994 Cala Records 1016
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 55184
    1994 Philips 442 608-2PM2
    1994 Decca
    1993 Denon Records 75024
    1993 Harmonia Mundi 905197
    1993 ASV 665
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon 4358542
    1993 Vanguard 4014
    1993 Naxos 8550138
    1993 RCA 61500
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 47608
    1993 Deutsche Grammophon 439014
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47655
    1992 Chandos 8822
    1991 London 430720
    1991 Mercury 432719
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80051
    1990 Deutsche Grammophon 4158472
    1989 EMI Music Distribution 62643
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon 419617
    RCA 60320
    Gemini 622
    CBS Records 37255
    Brilliant Classics 8635/67
    Naxos 8550138
    BMG 61269
    Seraphim UK 69730
    Denon Records 17009
    Vanguard 0100
    Varèse Sarabande 47232
    Rca Red Seal 987152
    Koch 7702
    Arkadia 771
    Pilz 6015
    EXL 4290
    Denon Records 8125
    Klavier Records 11010
    Forlane 16587
    RCA 62562
    RCA 60817
    Rca Red Seal 5750
    Supraphon 110971
    EMI Music Distribution 4572
    Amado Classics 04028
    Masters of the Millennium 2020
    Sony Music Distribution 28070
    London 410201
    RCA Victor 66134
    Decca 4757728
    BBC Music Magazine 90
    Vox 8171
    Brilliant 92777/2
    Forlane 16320
    ASV 524
    Pro-Arte Records 2009
    MCA 5933
    EMI Music Distribution 69833
    EMI Music Distribution 47477
    Philips 412619
    EMI Music Distribution 74753
    Apex 89244
    Erato 55001
    Erato 0630-18971-2
    Excelsior Recordings 24290
    EMI Music Distribution 56362
    Testament 1240
    UNT College of Music
    RCA 7737
    Apollo Music 349
    Newport Classic 10001
    RFCM Symphony Orchestra
    ABC Classics 4802842
    ABC Classics 4802837
    Intersound 3091