Lemaire was a creole, originally from Martinique, and had married a cousin of Saint-Saëns's wife. Saint-Saëns had previously set two of his poems, “Souvenance” and “Tristesse”, for voice and piano. Approached by the composer to write an oratorio on the story of Samson and Delilah, Lemaire agreed, but only if the work was to be an opera.
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