Piano Concerto No. 2 (Saint-Saëns)

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The first appearance of the first movement's main theme, written in the piano part.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22 by Camille Saint-Saëns was composed in 1868 and is probably Saint-Saëns' most popular piano concerto. It was dedicated to Madame A. de Villers (née de Haber). At the première, the composer was the soloist and Anton Rubinstein conducted the orchestra. Saint-Saëns wrote the concerto in three weeks and had very little time to prepare for the première; consequently, the piece was not initially successful. The capricious changes in style provoked Zygmunt Stojowski to quip that it "begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach."[1]


The piece follows the traditional form of three movements but allows for more freedom in tempo markings. Normally, the first movement is fast-paced, while the second is slower, but the first movement here is slow and the second movement has a scherzo-like quality, resulting in a form resembling a typical four-movement symphony but lacking the first movement (a form also represented by Beethoven's fourteenth piano sonata). The concerto is scored for solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, crash cymbals and strings.

The movements in the concerto are:

  1. Andante sostenuto (in G minor & sonata form)
    The concerto begins with a piano solo playing a long improvisational introduction in the style of a Bach fantasia. After the orchestra enters, the restless and melancholy first theme is played, again by the piano solo. Saint-Saëns drew the theme from his student Gabriel Fauré's abandoned Tantum ergo motet. A brief second theme appears, followed by a middle section of increasing degrees of animato. The main theme is recapitulated fortissimo and the soloist is given a long ad libitum cadenza. The Bach-like opening motif returns in the coda.
  2. Allegro scherzando (in E-flat major & sonata form)
    The second movement is in E-flat major and, instead of being a typical adagio, resembles a scherzo. The mercurial piano part is marked leggieramente, and the two main themes are clever and light-hearted. The energetic, delicate personality of this particular movement is characteristic of Saint-Saëns' musical wit, most famously observable in Le Carnaval des Animaux.
  3. Presto (in G minor & sonata form)
    The concerto concludes by returning to G minor. Like the preceding movement, it moves quickly; this time the form is an extremely fast, fiery saltarella, in sonata form, featuring a strong triplet figure. At presto speed, the orchestra and soloist rush tumultuously along, gaining volume and momentum and finishing in a whirlwind of G minor arpeggios.


The concerto, particularly the second movement, heavily influenced fellow French composer Gabriel Pierné's Piano Concerto in C minor of 1887.[2]

Georges Bizet wrote a transcription of the concerto for solo piano.


  1. ^ Summaries of Saint-Saëns' Piano Concertos Archived 2014-05-28 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Larner, Gerald (2011). Pierné: Piano Concerto, Divertissements sure un Theme Pastoral, Suites from 'Ramuntcho,' Marche des petits solidest de plomb (CD)|format= requires |url= (help) (Media notes). Chandos Records. p. 5-6.

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