Piano Concerto No. 4 (Saint-Saëns)

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The main melody of Saint-Saëns's fourth piano concerto.

Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, Op. 44 by Camille Saint-Saëns, is the composer's most structurally innovative piano concerto. In one sense it is structured like a four-movement symphony, but these are grouped in pairs. That is, the piece is divided into two parts, each of which combines two main movements (I. A moderate-tempo Theme and Variations in C Minor; II. A slower, related Theme and Variations in Ab Major; III. Scherzo in C Minor; IV. Finale in C Major). However, in each part there is a bridge-like transitional section, between the two main "movements" – for example, a fugal Andante in part II functions as an interlude between the two main triple-meter sections.

  1. Allegro moderatoAndante
  2. Allegro vivace – Andante – Allegro

It begins with a gently mischievous chromatic subject, heard in dialogue between the strings and piano soloist, and continues in a creative thematic development similar to Saint-Saëns' third symphony. The composer demonstrates brilliant skill in employing the piano and orchestra almost equally. In the Andante, he introduces a hymn-like theme with the woodwinds (also strikingly similar to the tune of the third symphony's final section), and uses this as a platform on which he builds a series of variations before bringing the movement to a quiet close.

The Allegro vivace begins as a playful and cunning scherzo (although still in C minor), deriving its main theme from the original chromatic subject in the beginning of the first movement. There is a bold switch to 6/8 time, and the piano leads the orchestra into a new brief but energetic theme. Eventually the orchestra moves into a lush Andante, recapitulating the chorale-style melody. Rather suddenly, the piano climbs up to a flurry of double octave trills and a climactic trumpet fanfare, leading to the jubilant finale based once more on the hymn theme played at triple time. The concerto concludes with the piano, in cadenza-like cascades, guiding the orchestra to a fortissimo close.

The piano concerto was premièred on October 31, 1875, at the Théâtre du Châtelet of Paris, with the composer as the soloist.[1] The concerto is dedicated to Anton Door, a professor of piano at the Vienna Conservatory. It continues to be one of Saint-Saëns' most popular piano concertos, second only to the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor. This highly inventive work, along with many others, does much to refute the caricature of a purely reactionary Saint-Saëns.


  1. ^ Les Annales du théâtre et de la musique. First year. Charpentier et Cie. Libraires-Editeurs, París. 1875. pp. 527–528. 

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