Camille Saint-Saëns was born in Paris on October 9, 1835. He was a musical prodigy who began playing piano at the age of three, was composing at the age of five, and made his debut as a concert pianist at the age of ten. In addition to having perfect pitch, he also had a phenomenal memory; for example, he was able to play all thirty-two of Beethoven’s piano sonatas from memory. While in his teens he trained as an organist at the Paris Conservatory, after which he worked as a church organist to pay the bills while he was establishing himself as a composer and performer. No less an authority than Franz Liszt declared Saint-Saëns to be the finest organist in the world.
In the course of a long and productive life, Saint-Saëns visited twenty-seven countries on five continents and gave countless performances. He composed hundreds of works in a variety of genres, from symphonies and operas to pieces for solo keyboard and almost everything in between. Here is one of his enduringly popular works, the tone poem Danse Macabre, composed in 1874.