Camille Saint-Saëns

Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44

    Description by John Palmer

    Saint-Saëns' Fourth Piano Concerto was first performed October 31, 1875, at the opening of Edouard Colonne's "Artistic Association," a series of concerts dedicated to the memory of Georges Bizet. After a concert performance of the concerto in Antwerp the piece was praised as a combination of "the force of Liszt and the suavity Chopin."

    In it, Saint-Saëns is engaging in an experiment with the Classical-era forms. There is only one full stop in the piece, dividing it into two movements. Each of these, however, is clearly divided into two parts, with further subdivisions in the second of the two movements. Thus, its form resembles that of his Third Symphony. Saint-Saëns maintains the traditional contrast between keys and fast and slow sections, but the order of events is experimental.

    As in the First Piano Concerto there is no orchestral introduction, only an opening phrase played pizzicato in the strings that begins with an upward leap of a tritone (C natural to F sharp). And as in the Second and Third Piano Concertos there is no solo introduction: the piece begins with the orchestra and soloist alternating statements of the first phrase at different pitch levels. Segments in which this theme is transformed -- intervals widened, rhythms altered -- rotate with nearly literal restatements of the theme as the piano part becomes increasingly flashy. A loud C major chord in the orchestra and a brief ritard introduce the key of A flat major and a new section, marked Andante. Rapid, quiet arpeggios and scales for the soloist dominate this part, in which the rising tritone again appears. The virtuosity and weight of the piano part, including massive broken chords, increases relentlessly to the end of the movement.

    Saint-Saëns approved of playing the two movements without pause, and this is generally how the piece is performed. The atmosphere of the second movement stands in stark contrast to the introspective tone of the first. A transformation of the main theme of the first movement becomes a Scherzo-like idea in triple meter that bounces along with unbounded energy. The closing theme of the movement is chorale-like and gives way to a close of almost Lisztian bravura, in C major.

    The pitch F sharp is of great importance in every part of the concerto, functioning as a push toward the dominant in the first part of the first movement and as part of a path toward A flat major in the second half. In the second movement Saint-Saëns uses it first as a chromatic inflection and later to emphasize the dominant.

    Some critics have suggested the lack of developmental procedures in Saint-Saëns' Fourth Concerto is a shortcoming or even a failing. It is difficult, however, to justify superimposing a Beethovenian concept of development on a work that is not constructed along such lines. The juxtaposition of, and interrelationships between, succeeding sections is formal device at work in this piece.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro moderato
    2. Andante
    3. Allegro vivace
    4. Andante
    5. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2019
    BIS
    BIS 2300
    2018
    IBA [Idil Biret Archives]
    8501207
    2018
    Naxos
    8573478
    2018
    Chandos
    CHAN 20031
    2016
    RCA Red Seal
    88875169792
    2016
    Various Artists
    Sony Classical
    88875177492
    2016
    Brilliant Classics
    95300BR
    2014
    Brilliant Classics
    94944
    2012
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099970490
    2012
    Newton Classics
    8802144
    2011
    Musicales Actes Sud
    04
    2010
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099968582
    2010
    BD Jazz / Zebralution
    2010
    Vox
    3032
    2010
    Hyperion
    18
    2010
    Audite
    91650
    2008
    Audite
    95589
    2007
    Erato
    2292451632
    2006
    Artone
    222357
    2006
    Brilliant Classics
    99668
    2005
    EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    7243586245
    2005
    Audite
    92509
    2005
    Brilliant
    92777
    2004
    Erato / Warner Classics
    6682862
    2004
    Music & Arts
    1133
    2003
    NM Classics
    97017
    2003
    Various Artists
    History
    45515
    2002
    Decca
    467 471-2
    2002
    ASV
    262
    2001
    Naxos
    110613
    2001
    EMI Music Distribution
    569258
    2001
    Hyperion
    67331
    1999
    Philips
    456754
    1999
    Philips
    462232
    1999
    Angel Records
    73356
    1998
    Teldec
    3984 24236-2
    1997
    Vox
    7201
    1996
    RCA
    68165
    1995
    London
    4438652
    1994
    Vox
    3028
    1994
    Naxos
    550334
    1994
    Various Artists
    Philips
    442 608-2PM2
    1994
    Various Artists
    Decca
    1993
    Sony Music Distribution
    47608
    1988
    EMI Classics
    69443
    1987
    EMI Music Distribution
    47816
    History
    204558
    Pearl
    9491
    As Disc
    535
    The Radio Years
    52
    London
    443865
    Erato
    London
    417351
    Philips
    446496
    Brilliant Classics
    99668/19
    Brilliant
    92777/5
    Odyssey/Sony Classical
    45624
    Erato
    88002