January 1, 1887
The Camille Saint-Saëns soirée given by Frau Caroline W. de Serres for the benefit of the Fund to Aid Disabled Railwaymen Unqualified for Pension and Their Widows and Orphans can properly be termed a social affair. The brilliantly decorated facade of the hall — two giant candelabra, brightly illuminated by candles, at each side of a stage forested with exotic plants provided a festively gay setting whose radiance was somewhat dimmed only by the dull reflection of Saint-Saëns' sometimes melancholy music — an audience glorying in its wealth, and, finally, a rather odd program set the occasion off — and not exactly advantageously — from the conventional physiognomy of most concerts.
Aside from the tasteful decoration of the stage, the brilliant illumination, Frau de Serres' admirable playing and its certainly even more admirable purpose, there was little about this concert that pleased me. What I liked most was the Septet for Piano, Strings and Trumpet [Opus 65], and what was most engaging about this piece, distinguished by its skillful exploitation of the trumpet, was its brevity. A bit longer, and it would be a bore. This shrewd moderation and pithiness is admirable, and absolutely not to be underestimated. How many a German composer might envy Saint-Saëns this virtue! It is common to all French composers, and to none more becoming, perhaps, than to Saint-Saëns, who composes more "wittily" than his fellow countrymen [I am not familiar with Massenet and Massé] 1, and who, well aware that brevity is the soul of wit, carefully avoids all sentimental chatter, and only once or twice touches a sensitive nerve. Even then, he is quick to return to his curiously iridescent manner of speech, a superficial mode of address, but not without spirit.
Saint-Saëns is reckoned by the French, oddly enough, a classicist, as hard to digest, as a learned composer, and heaven knows what else. Saint-Saëns' classicism is rather like Brahms's, with the distinction that with Saint-Saëns it is a natural outgrowth of his musical development (he was for some time an