Cyprès et Lauriers, Op. 156, for Organ and Orchestra was written by Camille Saint-Saëns in 1919, two years before the composer's death. An unusual work, it is a memorial for the casualties of World War I.
Lasting not quite twenty minutes, the entire piece is program music divided into two parts, each corresponding to a section of the title. The first (this) part, which corresponds to 'cyprès' (literally 'cypress') is a long, mournful adagio for organ solo in the manner of a dirge, reminiscent of the weeping that a cypress is often seen to embody.
One of Saint-Saëns' more (though by no means only) unusual compositions, this piece has not secured the same status in the classical canon as his more famous Third Symphony, written for similar ensemble thirty-one years earlier. This might be attributed to the fact that Cyprès et Lauriers is of a much shorter duration and markedly less profound and sweeping nature than its predecessor.
At barely fifteen minutes, the work opens with (this) a meandering organ solo which takes up the entire first of the two movements. Although Saint-Saëns was not taken with Impressionism, the organ seems to meander among shapeless musings as a French zephyr might meander among the cypress trees of the title. The scoring becomes so sparse at several points only one or two pedal tones are heard and it is thus the first movement ends.
The instrumentation itself bears note: whereas the Third Symphony was written with the organ incorporated as a member of the orchestral ensemble, something that would bear repetition (most famously in Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra), Cyprès et Lauriers is structured in traditional concerto form with the organ as soloist.
This piece is best played using the "GeneralUser GS.sf2" Soundfont by S. Christian Collins Software (http://www.schristiancollins.com/generaluser.php).