Everything you need to know about Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony

What is Saint-Saëns’ “Organ” Symphony?

It’s a symphony written by French composer Saint-Saëns cast in two movements. It has been a crowd favorite ever since its premiere in London’s St. James’s Hall in 1886 when Saint-Saëns himself lead the orchestra of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Although the whole symphony is well-loved, the final movement is what truly lends the piece its name as the “Organ” Symphony. The organ dramatically begins the movement by roaring resonant chords. A theme is introduced by the strings, evolving into a full-on march with all instruments—including the organ—working as a team.

Why is this piece so notable?

“I gave everything to it I was able to give. What I have here accomplished, I will never achieve again.” – Camille Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns’ C minor Symphony, “avec orgue” (with organ) is the third and very last of his symphonies, naming itself as one of his most beloved works throughout his tremendous musical career. As a piece cast in two movements, “Organ” is nearly unprecedented in 19th century symphonic composition. Further reconfiguring 19th-century music, Saint-Saëns doesn’t just use an organ, but also a piano, to establish and communicate themes.

“Organ” was heavily inspired by a key originator of thematic transformation, Liszt, to whom he dedicated the composition. Ambitious and groundbreaking, “Organ” teases with musical puzzles that reveal themselves at the end of the piece.

The main motif of the last movement is one of the most well-used tunes in classical music history, finding its way into movies like Disney’s “Babe,” and being adopted as the national anthem of micronation Atlantium—a small empire in New South Wales, Australia.

What should I expect when I come to the concert?

First off, prepared to be blown away by powerhouse organist Paul Jacobs.

We seriously mean this one.

Jacobs is pretty much THE rock star of the organ world. He is the only living organist in America to accumulate such an immense number of orchestral engagements. Typically, organists are restricted to just churches and religious ceremonies due to repertoire constraints, however, Mr. Jacobs has broken out of that box, creating a career for himself as a guest soloist, traveling all over the world with some of the most prestigious symphony orchestras.

As if that wasn’t enough to tell you how cool this guy is, at the age of 23 Mr. Jacobs played Bach’s complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon performance on the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death. Have you ever accomplished that much in 18 hours?

He also has been featured on NPR Music’s “Tiny Desk Concert,” and has amassed nearly 50,000 views on YouTube alone.

Second, don’t be alarmed if you see weird recording devices on stage. The Utah Symphony and European recording company Hyperion are teaming up to perform and record all five of Saint-Saëns’ symphonies—live. Join us as we make history as the first American orchestra to ever record the full cycle of all five works.

Whether you’re a massive Saint-Saëns fan or have never heard of him until now, this performance is one not to be missed.

Get your tickets for Saint-Saëns’ grand “Organ” symphony here.

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