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Pianos and Pianists - Editor Ates Orga







Saint-Säens always insisted everyone played everything too fast, but he, who had a technique which knew no difficulties, played faster than anyone.* Only once do I remember his playing too slow. This was at Dieppe [...] where I was conductor of the Casino summer concerts. I had a beautiful orchestra there, made up of the finest French musicians, and the concerts were very serious and very famous. For a time Jacques Thibaud [1880-1953, of the Thibaud-Casals-Cortot trio partnership of the twenties and thirties] was the violin solo. All the great artists of the day played at these concerts. One day I received a letter from Saint-Säens saying he had a desire to play the Schumann Piano Concerto with me. He knew 'Dieppe had a fine orchestra and a pretty good conductor.' His one stipulation was 'No advertising, as there would be too many people in the hall, and it would be too crowded and hot!' I answered I would indeed be honoured for him to play the Schumann Concerto with me, and promised we would not tell a soul who the artist was to be that week. Naturally, as was to be expected, this secret caused more excitement and curiosity than if we had announced the extraordinary event. At the rehearsal people peeped in the windows, hid behind seats and doors, and made themselves obvious in many annoying ways. That evening, the hall was full to overflowing. It was very hot, much too hot!

The master received a great ovation when he entered, and the Concerto proceeded in its usual form until the last movement. At the rehearsal [the engagement was evidently on a one-rehearsal/concert basis, present-day popular style] the master had said, 'You know, Monteux, this finale is, after all, romantic. Indeed the whole concerto fairly breathes of spring, love, Goethe. Everyone plays it too fast.'

I, not knowing the tempo he would take, said, 'Mon cher Maître, I beg of you, play it as you will.'

He then played it a bit slower than is usual, which did not astonish me too much. But at the concert you can imagine my suprise when, with what I thought a wicked, sardonic smile, he proceeded to play the movement, which is marked Allegro vivace by Robert Schumann, in an Andante moderato tempo! We could hardly keep our faces straight and some of the musicians at the back desks laughed behind their music wholeheartedly. However, the player was Saint-Saëns, France's most distinguished composer, and the public gave him the largest acclamation of the season.


- © Doris Monteux, It's All in the Music (New York & Toronto 1965, London 1966)


* Harold C Schonberg, The Great Pianists (New York 1963, London 1964), observed that 'Saint-Saëns seems to have had a fluent technique, considerable flexibility, a sec touch, restricted dynamics and a tendency towards speed. Harold Bauer said that he played most things too fast. There seems to have been nothing he could not do in the way of technique, but emotionally he was reined in.' AO


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