Back to 1868…like being in a time machine…

French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was a genius. Because he was a musical prodigy, a career in music seemed inevitable—and that is exactly what occurred. In his long lifetime, Saint-Saens became one of the best-known and most-performed musicians alive. But he also distinguished himself in the study of French literature, Latin and Greek, theology, mathematics, philosophy, archaeology and astronomy. He was particularly drawn to astronomy. He could have made a career in any of these fields.

As a musician, Saint-Saens was primarily a composer, but he was also the organist at the magnificent church La Madeleine, the church of the Empire (where, among others, the memorial services of Chopin and Faure were held). His teaching career at the École de Musique Classique et Religieuse in Paris was brief by choice—just five years—but it was substantial enough to hand down a revered legacy to his student Faure and Faure’s student, Ravel, both of whom regarded Saint-Saens as a genius of the highest order.


Saint-Saens wrote five piano concertos. In a previous posting, we heard Saint-Saens Fifth Piano Concerto (Music I Love # 244), nicknamed the “Egyptian” after its exotic second movement. The “Egyptian” does not get played that often, although in recent years French pianist Jean Ives-Thibaudet has become a vigorous champion of the work. One hears much more often the Second and Fourth Concertos. And, of all five concertos, there is no real question that the one with the most immediate audience appeal is #2. Saint-Saens wrote it in three weeks (!) when he was a young 33 years old.

The outer movements of the concerto, in particular, are replete with the fireworks that one would expect from a composer who is also a magnificent virtuoso pianist. The first movement is dramatic and serious, the third movement light as air, but both require impressive technical abilities.


Anyone reading my posts from the outset in 2017 will see that I have been delving deeper and deeper into Turkish music—music both modern and ancient, instruments both familiar and not so familiar, and performers both popular and classical. Obviously, being married to a first-rate Turkish musician—as well as having an extraordinary sister-in-law pianist—there have been some inevitable pro-Turkish musical influences on me. But Tiraje has never been one to push onto anyone her preferences or opinions (on anything). So, although she has always pointed out Turkish musical artistry to me, I find that I am only now hungrily asking her opinion about this and that music, this or that performer, and so on.


Verda Erman

There is no lack of great modern classical Turkish musicians, and perhaps that is most true concerning pianists. One of the pianists that Tiraje has introduced me to recently is Verda Erman, a pianist with both amazing technical and interpretive abilities. I am posting her playing today because it is so noteworthy.

Verda Erman became a State Artist in 1971, the year the honorary title was created (a title also held by Tiraje’s siter, Meral). She toured extensively around the world as a guest musician after 1971. She enjoyed successful tenures in Belgrade, Paris, Montreal and Bucharest. Pianist Rudolf Serkin invited her to the Marlboro Music School and Festival in the U.S. state of Vermont. She continued to perform with the Turkish Presidential Symphony Orchestra as piano soloist on the orchestra’s European tours. Erman’s death in 2014 from leukemia was a real blow to the world of Turkish classical music.

In today’s links, you will hear that Verda Erman’s abilities are not quite matched by the Istanbul Symphony, good as that orchestra is. Nor is the balance between soloist and orchestra ideal. Nevertheless, from a pianistic perspective, this is an outstanding Saint-Saens Second, one of the best I have ever heard.

For me, listening to Erman’s playing is like being in a time machine. How easy it is to imagine, while hearing Erman’s playing, that you are actually there in the hall as the young Saint-Saens premiered his concerto, with the great Anton Rubinstein conducting. This is amazing playing of an amazing work.

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