Prolific composer, pianist, organist, writer, and a polymath, Saint-Säens was considered by many to be a second Mozart. Mathematics and natural science aroused his curiosity, as well astronomy, archaeology and philosophy, subjects on which he was to write with enthusiasm. Later in life, he travelled widely, but Algeria and Egypt were his favorite resorts.
The suite is a musical postcard with each movement being a description from Saint-Säens’s visits. Short written notes before each movement reveal the musical origins of each scene:
I. Prelude - Algiers in View
From the deck of the ship still buffeted by a long swell, one hears various voices and make out the cry ‘Ali Allah! Mohammed rasoul Allah’. With a final rocking of the ship it is anchored in the port.
II. Moorish Rhapsody
In one of the many Moorish cafes in the old town, the Arabs perform their traditional dances, by turns sensual and frenzied, to the sound of flutes, rebabs, and tambourines.
III. Reverie of the Night at Blidah, (near Algiers)
Under the palm trees of the oasis, in the perfumed night, one hears from a distance a love song and the tender refrain from a flute.
IV. French Military March
Return to Algiers. Among the picturesque bazaars and the Moorish cafes, we hear the French Regiment, whose militaristic accents contrast with the curious rhythms and languorous melodies of the East.
Though the March is part of the repertoire today, in 1911 Saint-Säens denounced the French occupation of Algeria.
-written by Roupen Shakarian