Virtual Music Hour

  Saint-Saëns Archive

  Introducing Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61 featuring Yumi Hwang-Williams

  Listen to the Music

Movement 1

Movement 2

Movement 3

This week's Virtual Music Hour is dedicated to our Board Members and Trustees, past and present, who have helped shape and guide the Colorado Symphony.


Welcome to Virtual Music Hour. In preparation for your listening experience, Assistant Principal Violist Catherine Beeson has made guides with activities that can be enjoyed alone, with your quarantine buddies at home and online, or with your students. These activities can be mixed, matched, and altered to create an experience that’s right for you, or as inspiration to create your own. Get as creative as you’d like. Share it with us on social media! If you like seeing and hearing the Colorado Symphony musicians online, imagine how uplifting it would be for us to see and hear you too!

Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his Third Violin Concerto in 1880 during a period of his career when he was well known and celebrated, and feeling a bit freer to express himself personally and professionally. This violin concerto is considered less technically demanding and more musically mature than his previous two. You be the judge!

  Saint-Saëns composed this Violin Concerto at the age of 45 during a compositional period that kicked off following the Franco-Prussian war. This period was meant to establish a separation from German music traditions while elevating French music. Some of this new energy is evident in the writing style as it relies more heavily on inward expression than the outward flair of his previous work.

  Violin Concert #3 is in B minor, lasts just under half an hour, and is in three sections called movements, like chapters of a book. Saint-Saëns had experimented with other formats prior to this concerto but returned to the standard 3 “chapter” fast-slow-fast structure for this one.

  This concerto is dedicated to fellow composer and Spanish rock star violinist, Pablo de Sarasate. Possibly for this reason, or due to the fascination of French composers with Spanish music, the final movement has overt Spanish influence in both rhythmic and melodic elements.

  It’s not a requirement to have a mustache in order to enjoy listening to this concerto, but you may feel a bit of peer pressure to wear one considering Saint-Saëns and Sarasate sported these magnificent bro-merangs.

Pictured: Camille Saint-Saëns (left) and Pablo de Sarasate (right).

  In addition to the solo violin, Saint-Saëns’ score calls for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and the usual string section of violins, violas, cellos, and basses.

Here is a listening map that can guide you through the piece. Read it in advance or while you’re listening!

Movement 1

Allegro non troppo
In English: Quick but not too much

The first music we hear is a soft murmuring in the strings, followed immediately by a very strong entrance right away from the solo violin. It really conjures the sound of a dramatic furrowed brow!

After a bit of bold posturing from the orchestra we get into a second more lyrical theme, and then we’re off to the races with a dialogue between solo violin and orchestra that fully explores both the serious and the lyrical sounding music.

Toward the middle of his career, Saint-Saëns struggled with distancing his composition style from the historically German dominated style of the classical music genre, and moving instead toward establishing a French identity. Considering so much of the structure and rules of the genre are associated with one dominant culture, what do you think it could’ve been like for composers outside that culture to champion a homegrown aesthetic without inventing something completely different?

  Can you think of other examples of re-purposing art, music, dance, literature, film, theater, or any other cultural expression to promote independence and cultural pride?

  What might the primary challenges be to finding, expressing, and establishing that voice?

  Do a bit of research and see if some of your discussion mirrors any of Saint‑Saëns’ experiences!

There is lots of musical dialogue in Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto #3. Consider how tricky it might be to have a dialogue between the solo violin (one person speaking) and the orchestra (dozens of people speaking).

Have some fun experimenting with your quarantine buddies at home or online:

  How soft did the “orchestra” need to become in order to hear the “soloist”?

  Is it easy to be successful? Challenging? How/why?

  1. Come up with a short sentence or phrase you can all say together.
  2. Choose one person to come up with a different sentence or phrase.
  3. Have the group repeat their phrase together at a steady pace.
  4. Add the “soloist” repeating their different phrase.
  5. Try to achieve a balance of volume between the individual and the group so each can clearly hear the other.
  6. Try it again and this time have the soloist determine how loudly or softly to speak, so the orchestra must listen carefully and respond accordingly. You can reverse those roles as well.

Pictured: Last summer's Red Rocks performance with Tenacious D, illustrating an example of musical dialogue between the orchestra (Colorado Symphony) and the soloists (Kyle Gass & Jack Black) — who are also sporting the bro-merang mustache!

 Click images to enlarge.

Now that you’ve had a chance to consider, discuss, and get active around Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Concerto #3 it’s time to listen to the Colorado Symphony performance featuring our own concertmaster, Yumi Hwang-Williams as soloist. Can you imagine yourself performing on stage with your friends right there supporting you the whole way through? Would that be thrilling, fun, scary, all of the above? You never know...All you young musicians out there, keep practicing and dreaming! For those of you who are excited to engage as a home listener, feel free to sing/hum/whistle along, move and dance, journal or draw what you hear, or just turn the volume up and listen for sheer pleasure.



Please share your musical adventure with us through social media! We would love to hear about it or see any of your activities, journaling, or creations!


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