HISTORY LESSON – 9

Le Carnaval des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The orchestral work has a duration between 22 and 30 minutes.

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There are fourteen movements:

I- Introduction et marche royale du Lion (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion)

Strings and two pianos: The introduction begins with the pianos playing a bold tremolo, under which the strings enter with a stately theme. The pianos play a pair of scales going in opposite directions to conclude the first part of the movement. The pianos then introduce a march theme that they carry through most of the rest of the introduction. The strings provide the melody, with the pianos occasionally taking low runs of octaves which suggest the roar of a lion, or high ostinatos. The movement ends with a fortissimo note from all the instruments used in this movement.

II- Poules et Coqs (Hens and Roosters)

Strings without cello and double-bass, two pianos, with clarinet: This movement is centered around a pecking theme played in the pianos and strings, which is quite reminiscent of chickens pecking at grain. The clarinet plays small solos above the rest of the players at intervals.

III- Hémiones (animaux véloces) (Wild Asses; quick animals)

Two pianos: The animals depicted here are quite obviously running, an image induced by the constant, feverishly fast up-and-down motion of both pianos playing scales in octaves.

IV- Tortues (Tortoises)

Strings and piano: A slightly satirical movement which opens with a piano playing a pulsing triplet figure in the higher register. The strings play a maddeningly slow rendition of the famous ‘Can-Can’ from Offenbach’s operetta Orpheus in the Underworld, as mentioned below.

V- L’Éléphant (The Elephant)

Double-bass and piano: This section is marked Allegro Pomposo, the perfect caricature for an elephant. The piano plays a waltz-like triplet figure while the bass hums the melody beneath it. Like “Tortues,” this is also a musical joke – the thematic material is taken from Felix Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hector Berlioz’s Dance of the Sylphs. The two themes were both originally written for high, lighter-toned instruments (flute and various other woodwinds, and violin, accordingly); the joke is that Saint-Saëns moves this to the lowest and heaviest-sounding instrument in the orchestra, the double bass.

VI- Kangourous (Kangaroos)

Two pianos: The main figure here is a pattern of ‘hopping’ fifths preceded by grace notes

VII- Aquarium

Strings without double-bass, two pianos, flute, and glass harmonica: This is one of the more musically rich movements. The melody is played by the flute, backed by the strings, on top of tumultuous, glissando-like runs in the piano. The first piano plays a descending ten-on-one ostinato, while the second plays a six-on-one. These figures, plus the occasional glissando from the glass harmonica — often played on celesta or glockenspiel—are evocative of a peaceful, dimly-lit aquarium. According to British music journalist Fritz Spiegl, there is a recording of the movement featuring virtuoso harmonica player Tommy Reilly – apparently he was hired by mistake instead of a player of the glass harmonica.

VIII- Personnages à longues oreilles (Characters with Long Ears)

Two violins: This is the shortest of all the movements. The violins alternate playing high, loud notes and low, buzzing ones (in the manner of a donkey’s braying “hee-haw”).

IX- Le coucou au fond des bois (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods)

Two pianos and clarinet: The pianos play large, soft chords while the clarinet plays a single two-note ostinato, over and over; a C and an A flat, mimicking the call of a cuckoo bird.

X- Volière (Aviary)

Strings, piano and flute: The high strings take on a background role, providing a buzz in the background that is reminiscent of the background noise of a jungle. The cellos and basses play a pick up cadence to lead into most of the measures. The flute takes the part of the bird, with a trilling tune that spans much of its range. The pianos provide occasional ping and trills of other birds in the background. The movement ends very quietly after a long ascending scale from the flute.

(So now I’m supposed to edit Wikipedia? Lo,TG Ed)

XI- Pianistes (Pianists)

Strings and two pianos: This movement is a glimpse of what few audiences ever get to see: the pianists practicing their scales. The scales of C, D flat, D and E flat are covered. Each one starts with a trill on the first and second note, then proceeds in scales with a few changes in the rhythm. Transitions between keys are accomplished with a blasting chord from all the instruments between scales. After the four scales, the key changes back to C, where the pianos play a trill-like pattern in thirds while the strings play a small part underneath. This movement is unusual in that the last three blasted chords do not resolve the piece, but rather lead into the next movement, with a pattern similar to the chords that lead from the second to the third movements of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

XII- Fossiles (Fossils)

Strings, two pianos, clarinet, and xylophone: Here, Saint-Saëns mimics his own composition, the Danse Macabre, which makes heavy use of the xylophone to evoke the image of skeletons playing card games, the bones clacking together to the beat. The musical themes from Danse Macabre are also quoted; the xylophone and the violin play much of the melody, alternating with the piano and clarinet. The piano part is especially difficult here – octaves that jump in quick thirds. Allusions to “Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman” (better 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 can also be heard. The musical joke in this movement is that the musical pieces quoted are the fossils of his time[citation needed].

XIII- Le Cygne (The Swan)

Two pianos and cello: This is by far the most famous movement of the suite, often performed solo and is used to showcase the interpretive skills of the cellist. The lushly romantic cello solo (which evokes the swan elegantly gliding over the water) is played over rippling sixteenths in one piano and rolled chords in the other (representing the swan’s feet, hidden from view beneath the water, propelling it along).

XIV- Finale

Full ensemble: The Finale opens on the same tremolo notes in the pianos as in the introduction, which are soon reinforced by the wind instruments, the glass harmonica and the xylophone. The strings build the tension with a few low notes, leading to glissandi by the piano, then a pause before the lively main melody is introduced. This movement is somewhat reminiscent of an American carnival from the middle of the twentieth century, with one piano always maintaining a bouncy eighth note rhythm. Although the melody is relatively simple, the supporting harmonies are ornamented in the style that is typical of Saint-Saëns’ compositions for piano; dazzling scales, glissandi and trills. Many of the previous movements are quoted here from the introduction, the asses, hens, and kangaroos. The work ends with a strong group of C major chords.

( Gosh, that’s fascina ……. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz Lo,TG Ed)

There used to be 15 movements to include a celebration of the Brown Owl. There were problems however as Saint-Saëns scored it as the B-Owl movement which led to a lot of misunderstandings. During rehearsals he insisted that the woodwind section should really let themselves go, which they did. The strings walked off in disgust and the kettle drums had to be used to clear up the resulting mess. Saint-Saëns had no idea what was going on and blamed the catering company who sued him for defamation of character. He also got a very large bill from the woodwind section for laundry costs. He nearly went bankrupt. He decided that the B-Owl movement was cursed and removed it.

Christopher Wheeldon, in his modern ballet set to the music of the Carnival of the Animals which was premiered at the Lincoln Centre in New York in 2003, tried to revive the complete works but there were similar problems that were revealed all too clearly by the men wearing tights – once again the idea was shelved.

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[The other lesson that is clearly made today is that very long posts are usually rather tedious – tee hee]
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(I actually like this musi ………zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Lo,TG Ed)

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