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Saint-Saëns and his circle, published in 1965, was Harding's first biography set against the backdrop of French music.
Reviews of Saint-Saëns and his circle
"For a first book, Saint-Saëns and his Circle was astonishing in its command of the many new facts it contained, and in its portrayal of the links and tensions between the composer and his times." Roger Nichols, rslit.org

"Saint-Sans stock has fallen very low today. and Mr. Harding, in a gober and judicious evaluation, does much to restore the balance." Lennox Berkely, The Catholic Herald




The book
Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921) was one of the most exuberantly talented musicians who ever lived and Harding's biography of him remains a standard reference today.  Although Saint-Saëns' enormous gifts led contemporaries to overpraise him, in the forty years after his death, his qualities were largely neglected until Harding's timely biography.  In addition to his sensitive analysis of Saint-Saëns' musical craftsmanship and achievements and the formidable position Saint-Saëns held in French musical life for over three-quarters of a century, Harding has covered the field of his subject's contemporaries and friends who, by reason of Saint-Saëns' extraordinary versatility - he was by turns playwright, botanist, astronomer, archaeologist, poet and philosopher - range wide: from men like Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Bizet, Rossini, Gounod and Tschaikovsky in the musical field to Turgenev, Ingres, Doré, Hugo and Proust in others.  A valuable feature of this excellent book is a fully comprehensive list of Saint-Saëns' musical and literary works. 
The man
Camille Saint-Saëns, born in 1835, was a French late-Romantic composer whose precocity (he wrote his first ever work at the age of three) is comparable only with Mozart's.  In the course of his musical career, Saint-Saëns progressed from being a pioneer, introducing the symphonic poem to France and championing Liszt and Wagner, to an ultra-conservative resisting the likes of Debussy.  Attracting international fame at a young age for his musical ability, Saint-Saëns genius was not limited to composing, performing and writing musical criticism but encompassed botany, astronomy and archaeology, with his intellectual output including a philosophical work, a volume of poetry and a play.  However, it is for his works including The Carnival of the Animals and Danse Macabre that he will be best remembered.  Saint-Saëns died at the age of eighty-six on Friday 16 December 1921.