Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, conductor, pianist and organist. He was a musical prodigy, writing his first pieces of music at the age of four and making his concert debut at the age of ten. During this concert he astonished the audience by playing one of the 32 piano sonatas of Beethoven at its request. After his studying at the Conservatory of Paris he followed a career as a church organist at Saint-Merri and later La Madeleine in Paris. He was also a successful freelance composer and pianist in France and abroad.
Saint-Saëns initially helped to introduce German composers such as Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner in France. However, from 1870 onwards anti-German sentiments began to arise in France as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, which enhanced support for the idea of a pro-French musical society. In 1871 Saint-Saëns consequently founded the Société Nationale de Musique together with Romain Bussine, that was devoted to the promotion of French music and organised concerts on which young composers could perform their works.
Saint-Saëns was a keen traveler, and made 179 trips to 27 different countries during his life. He favoured Algeria and Egypt, were he gained inspiration for compositions such as the Suite Algérienne and the Fifth Piano Concerto, also known as The Egyptian.
Saint-Saëns' best-known works include the First Cello Concerto, Third Symphony, the opera Samson et Dalila, Danse Macabre and Le carnaval des animaux, a humorous suite in which various animals are musically portrayed. However, he never wanted the last work to be performed, since it was contrary to his image as a serious composer.