Camille Saint-Saëns: Havanaise 


Composed in 1887, Camille Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise is a staple concertante work for solo violin and orchestra. Originally intended for Cuban violinist Rafael Díaz Albertini, the French premiere actually saw Martin Pierre Marsick take to the stage to perform this thrilling work.


The Music

Set in the bright key of E major, Havanaise is a playful work that clocks in at around 10 minutes in duration. As the title allusively suggests, the foundation of the work is based on a Habanera rhythm. Opening with a quiet theme, the woodwind set the scene for the soloist to enter with the first Habanera theme. The lightness of Saint-Saëns’ orchestration adds to the charm of the music, with the wistful solo part sitting neatly on top of the bobbing accompaniment. As this theme is explored more thoroughly, Saint-Saëns begins to build a pathway into the next section, which certainly brings some fire to the music. 

The devilishly quick tempo is set and the soloist rushes off, adding excitement and awe to the piece. A real showstopper section, the virtuosity of the soloist is put to the test through stamina, speed and dexterity. As the tempo is pulled back once more, the soloist falls back into a lyrical theme. These sections are full of character that match the energy of the fast sections in a different way. 

The lyrical theme is developed further, before a more aggressive interlude is heard. The final minute of the piece shows fragments of the Habanera theme played by the soloist, bringing us back to where we began. The dynamic slowly drops before the final incredibly high note is played by the soloist, finishing off this piece in the most beautiful of ways. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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