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.
This, the final movement leads to the cadenza-like,
minute-long final. Although originally written for
Bassoon and Piano, I created this arrangement for Viola