Saint-Saëns was born in Paris. A child prodigy, two years after his birth he could already read and write and began piano lessons then almost immediately began composing. His first piano recital was at age five. At ten years of age he gave public recitals of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. At the age of sixteen, he wrote his first symphony.
In 1871 he co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique. He wrote dramatic works, including four symphonic poems, and 13 operas, of which Samson et Dalila and the symphonic poem Danse Macabre are among his most famous. In all, he composed over three hundred works and was the first major composer to write music specifically for the cinema.
In 1875, Saint-Saëns married Marie Truffot and fathered two children who died within six weeks of each other in 1881. Saint-Saëns left his wife the same year. The two never divorced, but lived the rest of their lives apart from one another. It has been suggested that Saint-SaŽns was involved in homosexual relationships later in life, though evidence of this is largely circumstantial.
In 1886 he wrote his Symphony No. 3 , "avec orgue", that is, "with Organ", perhaps the most famous of all his works. Aided by monumental symphonic organs built in France by Mr. Aristide Cavaillť-Coll, at that time the world's greatest organ builder, this work in particular is inserted in the hearth of the sense of "gigantism" of the dying XIX century, it is clearly enmarked alongside with the trend of the Eiffel Tower, the Universal Exposition at Paris and the beginning of the "belle epoque". The Maestoso of the second movement is clearly an expression of the confidence of the European man in himself, in his technology, his science, his "age of reason". He was frequently named as "the most German composer of all the French composers", perhaps due to his fantastic skills exhibited in the construction of melodic passages.
Also in 1886, Saint-Saëns completed The Carnival of the Animals, which was first performed on March 9th, 1886. Despite being very popular today, Saint-Saëns forbid complete performances of it shortly after its premiere, only allowing one movement, "The Swan", a piece for cello and piano, to be published in his lifetime.
Saint-Saëns wrote on musical, scientific and historical topics, frequently travelling around Europe, North Africa, and South America before spending his last years in Algiers, Algeria. In recognition of his accomplishments, the government of France awarded him the Legion of Honor.