, born in Paris
on Oct. 9, 1835; died in Algiers
, Dec. 16, 1921. (Lived a pretty long time.)
A child prodigy, he was gifted with perfect pitch like Mozart and J.S. Bach. It is told by the age of two he could name every note on the piano by ear, even from a different room. As a young child his ability was put to test by the director of the local conservatoire, who believed he had disproven the boy's ability when the child was off by a semitone, but Saint-Saëns insisted that he was correct and it turned out that the piano was tuned a semitone low.
He was one of the most gifted virtuoso pianists in history, earning the admiration and friendship of Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist of that time and arguably of all time. Franz Liszt is supposed to have once said that Saint-Saëns and he were the only two in Europe who knew how to play the piano. Saint-Saëns is not remembered so well, however, because he was not much of a showman. It is said that he was solemn and uninterestingly still during performances, in contrast to Liszt's charisma and bravura.
As a composer, he is probably best remembered for his salon entertainment suite The Carnival of the Animals, including a piece called The Swan which has found popularity in ballet. The finale of this "Grande fantasie zoologique" was used entertainingly in Fantasia 2000.
Other remembered works include the symphonic poem Danse macabre, and his Symphony no. 3, the "Organ symphony." His concertos are also well regarded.
He has been referred to as "the greatest composer who was not a genius." Certainly parts of his work are genius level, such as parts of the Carnival of the Animals and the danse macabre, but he wasn't a Mozart or Beethoven.
For a while, he was England's favorite French composer. He was known also as the greatest organist of his time, being unmatched at the art of improvisation on the instrument.
He tried for his whole career to be successful in the opera media, but it wasn't until very late in his life that he scored a hit with Samson and Delila. Opera was considered the most important forum of the time, because it was the most popular with the general public.
He was a major force in French music for most of his life, but towards the end the new movement sparked by Erik Satie and Claude Debussy totally revolutionized it all, and Saint-Saëns disapproved of the new impressionism. His conservatism kept him from adapting to the times, and he was regarded as old fashioned by the time of his death in 1921.
His best known student was Gabriel Fauré.