Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 –1921) was born in Paris. His father died shortly after his birth, and he was brought up by his Mum and a great-aunt - it was the aunt who gave him piano lessons while still a toddler. He was a truly gifted child, reading and writing, and composing his first piece at three years of age.

He studied at the Paris Conservatory, and had composed two symphonies before he was seventeen – the first was not released. He also made a name for himself as a brilliant organist.

He had a large musical output but he is probably best known for Carnival of the Animals, Danse Macabre and his Organ Symphony. He spent time in America where he enjoyed success as a conductor. He was also a scholar in many subjects and wrote many books under a nom de plume. He also spent 5 years in a teaching post and had Fauré and Ravel as students. Saint-Saens was a recipient of France’s Légion d’honneur, and he received a state funeral.

Danse Macabre (The Dance of Death)

Apparently the dead summon the living to the grave to give them a reminder of how fragile is life itself. The dance is like a last fling amidst the need for penitence and also, while it’s still possible, amusement – while remembering that death may be just around the corner.

Marche Militaire Française is the 4th and final movement of Saint-Saens’ Algerian Suite, which he entitled "Picturesque Impressions of a Voyage to Algeria." The third movement is about an impressive military fortress near Algiers, so a march must have seemed a natural conclusion to the suite - which was premiered in December 1880.

Bacchanale, loosely translated as a wild party, is from Saint-Saens’ opera “Samson and Delilah”. In Scene One Samson had given in to his temptress and let slip that his hair was the key to his strength. In Scene Two, the singing of the priests and priestesses broke into a wild bacchanal. While Samson, blind and shackled, was being taunted by the Philistines, he asked the boy to lead him to the two main pillars of the temple, which he pulled down, killing all present.