Camille Saint-Saens was born in Paris in 1835. He was a child prodigy, hailed as the French Mozart. His first composition survives and is dated 1839. His first recital was performed at the age of 5 and at 10 he gave his famous debut concert at the Salle Pleyel.
Saint-Saens adopted a method of piano playing taught to him by Camille-Marie Stamaty which used the strength of the hand rather than the arm. This technique was maintained throughout his career.
The study of organ and composition ultimately led to Saint-Saens becoming organist at the Eglise de la Madeleine. During the years 1861-1865 Saint-Saens was Professor of Piano at Ecole Niedermeyer where he championed the work of Wagner and his close friend Franz Liszt. Among his pupils was Gabriel Faure who also became one of his closest friends. In 1871 Saint-Saens co-founded the Societe Nationale de Musique with the aim of promoting new French music. A voracious intellectual Saint-Saens was prolific in his output which spans the Romantic era and includes concertos, symphonies, chamber works, operas and songs.
1886 saw the debut of Le Carnaval des Animaux and Symphony No. 3, dedicated to Franz Liszt who died that year. After the death of his mother in 1888 Saint-Saens left France for the Canary Islands then continued to travel the world, chronicling his adventures using the name Sannois. He spent his final years in Algiers, dying of pneumonia in 1921. His body was returned to Paris.