What is significant about Camille Saint Saens's life and career?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A musical genius, Camille Saint-Saen's life was filled with both high successes and unexpected disappointments. Gifted with absolute pitch and genius from his youth, Saint-Saens was admired for his ability to recall all thirty-two of Beethoven's concertos as a youth as well as his own talent on the organ and piano and his compositions, Saint-Saens, nevertheless, failed to win the coveted Prix de Rome twice, and receive the recognition that he deserved.

The French Romantic composer, Hector Berlioz, who also became a good friend of Saint-Saens, said of him, Il sait tout, mais il manque d'inexpérience ("He knows everything, but he lacks inexperience") Perhaps because Saint-Saen did not experience the struggles that many did in their development as composers, his work did not receive the recognition that it should. For instance, his Le Carnaval des Animaux (Carnival of the Animals), was never publicly performed during his lifetime. Because it was written as a "musical jest," Saint-Saens worried it would damage his reputation as a composer. However, it is praised for its technical brillance and imagination. Despite his disappointments, Saint-Saens remains one of the most intellectual of all composers because of his acumen in other fields, especially mathematics and science.