At a time when in France the public’s interest in opera and ballet dominated, and these two genres defined a composer’s reputation, Saint-Saëns was among the few who wrote concertos for different instruments. He is the author of ten concerts. Five of them are for piano, three – for violin and two – for cello. Saint-Saëns did not play the violin, but he apparently had a good “instinct” for its expressive possibilities, because some of his most popular works were written for this instrument. The inspiration for the creation of three of them was the great Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate. The Master dedicated his Violin Concerto № 3 in B minor, which he began composing during his stay in Spain in 1879, to him. “As of the composition of the concert, he gave me invaluable advice” – noted Saint-Saëns. He completed the work with ease and inspiration and it was performed for the first time on October 15, 1880 in Hamburg by Sarasate and the Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Adoff Georg Beer. An year later it was presented in Paris.
When he finished the Violin Concerto No 3, the composer was 45 years old, already quite experienced in the genre. In his instrumental concerts he experimented with forms, but here he returned to the canonical three-part model: fast – slow – fast. Saint-Saëns did not provide the traditional cadence for the soloist, but all the while his part is saturated with brilliant, dizzyingly difficult passages. He masterfully integrated the elements of virtuosity in the three parts, which gives the performer space to demonstrate not only high technicality, but also refined musicality. The dramatic first and third parts frame the form. Skipping the usual orchestral introduction, the solo violin is immediately put into action. The passionately pathetic spirit of the first theme grows into another, lyrical aspect in the second theme. The pastoral second part of Andante, reminiscent in its magical beauty of Italian barcarole, seems to confirm the Creed of Saint-Saëns: An artist who does not feel complete satisfaction with the artful lines, harmonious colors and beautiful sequence of chords, does not understand the art of music.. The finale, in which the concert reaches its dramatic culmination, begins with a solo recitative, after which the soloist takes up the main energetic bravura theme. Its staccato rhythm has a Spanish flavor – an undoubted reverence for Sarasate. It contrasts sharply with the choral second theme, which brings a mood of graceful calm. In the development of the thematic material, Saint-Saëns adds new touches of drama and excitement, as well as references to the exotic sweet harmonies in the second part.