Saint-Saëns was one of the premier French composers of his time and was one of the main leaders of the rebirth of French music in the 1870s.
Saint-Saëns showed musical brilliance from childhood – he gave his debut concert in 1845 aged ten, at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, performing concertos by Beethoven and Mozart from memory. He was encouraged to study composition and three years later, he began at the Paris Conservatoire, where he focused on composition, organ, singing, conducting and orchestration. Still in his youth, he made friends with Gounod, Rossini and Berlioz. Saint-Saëns was also greatly admired by Liszt, who hailed him not just as a great pianist and composer , but as the greatest organist the world had ever seen.
In 1853 he was appointed organist of the Cathedral of Saint Merry, which was to prove an important career move. Saint-Saëns’s Mass op.4 was dedicated to the Abbé Gabriel, who was so impressed that, in gratitude, he invited Saint-Saëns to accompany him on a trip to Italy, the beginning of a career full of travel and inspiration from far and wide.