In the last year of his life, at the age of 85, Camille
Saint-Saëns was still active as a composer and
conductor, traveling between Algiers and Paris. Besides
a final piano album leaf, his last completed works were
three sonatas, one each for oboe, clarinet, and
bassoon. He sensed that he did not have much time left;
he wrote to a friend, "I am using my last energies to
add to the repertoire for these otherwise neglected
instruments." He intended to write sonatas for another
three wind instruments, but was never able to.
Saint-Saëns began the pieces early in the year while in
Algeria and completed them in April in Paris. He was
not alone in wanting to write for these instruments.
English composers, such as Holst and Bax, and other
French composers, such as Honegger and Milhaud, were
also starting to expand the literature for woodwind
instruments around the same time. In fact, Saint-Saëns'
sonatas have pastoral and humorous moments that are
similar to those others' works, relying on simpler
melodies and textures than are found even his earlier
chamber works, yet retaining Classical forms for their
structure. Although all three sonatas were published
before Saint-Saëns' death, they were not premiered
until later. The Bassoon Sonata, Op. 168, was dedicated
to Saint-Saëns' friend, August Périer, a bassoon
professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The opening
Allegro moderato is liltingly charming as it drifts
between major and minor, building to a not too dramatic
climax in its development section. The second movement,
Allegro scherzando, begins in minor mode, but it, too,
changes frequently between major and minor during its
lighthearted jaunt. The final movement is in two parts,
Molto adagio and Allegro moderato. The Adagio, the
longest section of the entire sonata at over five
minutes, features a florid melody over a simple,
essentially chordal accompaniment. It leads to the
cadenza-like, minute-long final Allegro.
This Bassoon Sonata in G major, Op. 168 was composed in
1921, the year of his death and is the first of the
three sonatas that Saint-Saëns composed for wind
instruments, the other two being the Oboe Sonata (Op.
166) and the Clarinet Sonata (Op. 167), written the
same year. The piece is dedicated to Clément-Léon
Letellier (b. 1859) , lead bassoonist with the Societé
du Conservatoire de l'Opéra.
Although originally written for Bassoon and Piano, I
created this arrangement of the first movement for
Viola and Piano.