All right, we got a barn-burner here. Seriously, you’ll be needing good speakers and you’ll be wanting to turn them UP, especially for the last movement. Today it’s the Symphony No. 3 in C minor by Camille Saint-Saens, better known as the “Organ” Symphony. This is one of the great warhorse-works in all classical music, and there’s a reason for that.
This symphony is, quite simply, awesome. It’s amazing. With all respect (well, some respect, anyway) to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, this symphony is the musical equivalent of a fireworks show. Maybe not all the way through, obviously — it opens with an ethereal chord followed by a meditative passage before the tempo quickens, and there’s a wonderful slow movement, but when that final section arrives, with that first gigantic chord in the organ, well, that’s when the clouds disperse.
I first heard this work in excerpt form at EPCOT, of all places, as parts of it are used (along with other French works) in the Impressions de France film in the French pavilion. I bought a recording of the symphony within months, and it has been a favorite piece of mine ever since. In fact, my college roommate and I used to use the last movement as background motivational music whenever we were getting dressed for a band or orchestra concert (we were in both). Toward the end, when the entire brass section gets to just let it all loose, the effect is one of the most thrilling in all of classical music.
The Organ Symphony was written in 1886 for the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, although Saint-Saens dedicated the work to Franz Liszt after that great composer’s passing. The Symphony’s structure is slightly odd: it seems like it’s in four movements, but the first two movements and the last two are played without break, so in reality, the work is in two sections. It’s easier to refer to the four movements, though, so that’s the convention I follow here.
Here is the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saens. And seriously, turn this thing up — and check out the timpanist in the symphony’s closing seconds. That guy is getting every ounce of pleasure out of every single drumbeat!