The correspondence of composer Camille Saint-Saëns digitized and soon available online

In view of the centenary of the death of Camille Saint-Saëns, the Dieppe library has decided to digitize the correspondence of the famous musician, thousands of letters that will then be available on Gallica.

A great French composer and pianist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Camille Saint-Saëns died in 1921. As the centenary of his disappearance approached, the Dieppe library began to digitize the correspondence of the musician who had bequeathed numerous documents to the city in memory of his Dieppose origins. This digitization phase is conducted at the Château de Sablé-sur-Sarthe.

Saint-Saëns and Dieppe

Child prodigy of the piano (he gives his first concert at 11 years) and prolific composer (12 operas and “cults” pieces like the extract of the Carnival of animals, composed in 1886, became the emblematic credits of the Festival de Cannes), Camille Saint-Saëns was born in Paris but her father was Dieppois. The musician frequently stayed in the Norman city where part of his family lived.

A prolific correspondence

From the end of the 1880s, the musician made several successive donations to the city of Dieppe, including his personal belongings bequeathed shortly before his death.

In total, nearly 14,000 letters, 600 scores and 600 books are kept in the city’s museum and the Fonds ancien Camille Saint-Saëns. As several exhibitions and events are in preparation for the centenary of the composer’s death, the city saw fit to proceed with the digitization of the documents.

Heavy filing work

But before this stage, it was necessary to classify the important correspondence of Camille Saint-Saëns. The collection was divided into two: on the one hand, 1,400 so-called “precious” letters, some of which bear the signature of authors such as Wagner, Proust or Pasteur. On the other hand, 12500 letters considered more “banal”: telegrams, business cards, postcards… Everything has been sorted by author and date, to facilitate the researchers’ work.

A feast for historians

Then comes the digitization work, supported by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Bnf) at the castle of Sablé-sur-Sarthe. Annex of the Bnf since 1979, the site has a specific scanner to digitize this type of archives. Once the operation has been completed, the Bnf will be able to keep the digital duplicates on Gallica, its national online library.

Something to delight history buffs and researchers.

“The interest for the public is to have access to a large part of the fund on the internet,” explains Annie Bonnaud, Director of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Sablé-sur-Sarthe. ‘Then, researchers who want to deepen their work can go to the Dieppe library, which keeps the original of this collection.”

Ready for 2021

It will be 2021 before the entire collection is available digitally. But without waiting, you can already consult some archives of Saint-Saëns on the Gallica site.