Carnival of the Animals
The history of its composition[change | change source]
Saint-Saëns wrote the Carnival of the Animals as a distraction while composing his Symphony No. 3. Carnival was performed at a small gathering of friends. Saint-Saëns did not want the general public to hear it, because he did not want to be thought of as someone who wrote jokey pieces. He wanted to be thought of as a serious composer. Just one movement was published during his lifetime: the famous Swan movement for solo cello. The rest of the work was not performed until a year after Saint-Saëns’ death.
Following a disastrous concert tour of Germany in 1885–86, Saint-Saëns withdrew to a small Austrian village, where he composed The Carnival of the Animals in February 1886. It is scored for two pianos, two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute (and piccolo), clarinet (C and B♭), glass harmonica, and xylophone.
The music[change | change source]
There are 14 short movements, with a short introduction. Saint-Saëns arranged it for an orchestra consisting of flute doubling piccolo, clarinet (B flat and C), two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. Today it is often performed with a full orchestra of strings, and with a glockenspiel instead of a glass harmonica, which is an unusual instrument.
Movements[change | change source]
- I: Introduction and Royal March of the Lion
After an introduction the pianos introduce a march theme. They imitate the roar of the lions.
- II: Hens and Roosters
- III: Wild Asses
The two pianos seem to go wild with scales rushing up and down madly.
- IV: Tortoise
This movement for strings and piano is very slow, like a tortoise. Saint-Saëns makes a musical joke here: the tune is the same tune as the famous 'Can-Can' from Offenbach's operetta Orpheus in the Underworld, but played very slowly.
- V: The Elephant
This double bass solo with piano accompaniment makes the elephant sound heavy and clumsy. In the middle section the elephant tries to dance a waltz. This is also a musical joke - the tune is taken from Felix Mendelssohn's Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream and Hector Berlioz's Dance of the Sylphs where it is played on high-sounding instruments.
- VI: Kangaroos
The two pianos hop about gracefully like kangaroos.
- VII: Aquarium
This is very graceful music with the tune played on the flute, accompanied by strings, with occasional glissandi (slides) on the glass harmonica.
- VIII: Persons with Long Ears
The “Persons with Long Ears” are actually donkeys. It is played on two violins which imitate the “hee-haw” sound of the donkey..
- IX: The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods
- X: Aviary
- XI: Pianists
- XII: Fossils
The xylophone plays a fast tune which sounds like skeletons playing. Saint-Saëns is making a joke about himself, because he uses a tune from one of his own works: the Danse Macabre. There are bits of other tunes as well: "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" (known in the English-speaking world as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), the French nursery rhymes "Au Clair de la Lune" and "J'ai du bon tabac", the popular anthem Partant pour la Syrie as well as the aria Una Voce Poco Fa from Rossini's Barber of Seville. Saint-Saëns was saying that these tunes were old-fashioned (like fossils).
- XIII: The Swan
This is one of the most famous of all tunes for the cello. It is a lovely tune which sounds like a swan swimming gracefully along.
- XIV: Finale
All the instruments join in the Finale which has bits from nearly all the movements.