Carnival of the Animals: A Grand Zoological Fantasy (1886)
by Camille Saint-SaŽns (1835-1921)
Camille Saint-SaŽns wrote the 22-minute long Carnival of the Animals while on vacation in 1886; it was intended for private performance by a chamber ensemble (2 pianos and 11 other instruments), and was played only once for his friends.
At the time he wrote Carnival, Saint-SaŽns was a well-established composer well known throught his native France and Europe. He had written symphonies, concertoes, operas, songs, chamber works, solo pieces and sacred music. So naturally he considered the piece too frivolous for publication - what would people say when they discovered that the great composer had written a silly little ditty?
Fortunately Saint-SaŽns did not completely disown the piece, and in his will he allowed it to be published after his death. Unlucky for him, though, he is now best remembered for this piece rather than his other serious works.
This 14-part work contains delightful musical portraits of various animals (and piano students!) and borrows music from several other pieces to entertaining effect. Though the piece was written for fun, the clever use of the various instruments offers interesting insight into the instruments themselves.
The MIDI rendition here was created by Ramon Pajares Box and used with permission. We have also provided a RealAudio version, which may sound better than the original MIDI on some sound cards.
Introduction et Marche Royale du Lion
(Introduction and the Lionís Royal March)
The lion awakes to a rousing fanfare and after that comes his majestic march. The piano plays the fanfare, and the warmth of the strings almost depicts the rising sun. The large range of notes of the piano is put to use here with the low notes growling as the higher keys march along.
Poules et Coqs
(Hens and Roosters)
Cluck-cluck-cluck. The violin and piano, played in staccato, depict our key characters, a bunch of squabbling domesticated fowl. The frantic clucking rises to a climax, and finally, it becomes apparent that an egg has been laid!
Hťmiones (Animaux vťloces)
Wild donkeys appear as a galloping piano, run across the entire expanse of the keyboard, up and down, up and down, and are gone in no time at all, leaving only a cloud of dust.
Tortoises perform the ĎCan-Caní to Offenbachís Orpheus and Euridice at an excruciatingly slow pace. The strings draw out prolonged notes depicting the slow motion of the tetrapods. They even take a long time getting off the stage, and the last note lingers, hanging in the air.
The enormous elephant makes a thunderous entrance to the largest member of the string family, the double bass, swinging his trunk from side to side. The pounding chords of the piano depict the earth-shaking footsteps of this large animal. Here Saint-SŽans quotes irrelevant music, such as the ĎDance of the Sylphsí from Berliozís Faust.
Kangaroos bound lightly over the piano, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. They hop up and down the scale nimbly, pausing in between leaps.
The flute and the strings bring us to a dimly lit underwater world, where fish weave through the water and become visible momentarily as they enter a beam of light. Air bubbles to the surface in the form of quick notes on the piano. The piano also represents the swirling waters, and a glockenspiel can be heard sparkling in the gloom.
Personnages ŗ longues oreilles
Bunny rabbits bound around to the sounds of the violin. Faster and faster they go, and then they fade out of sight and hearing.
Le coucou au fond des bois
(The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Forest)
The unchanging two-note call of the cuckoo, played by the clarinet, can be heard clearly through the silence of the woods. Chords on the piano evoke a dark, peaceful atmosphere.
An agile and nimble flute depicts the call of our little feathered friends, and shimmering strings their fluttering in the sunshine. The pianos ring out sparkling pools of water in the sunlight.
Two novice piano students labour at scales and five-finger exercises. It clearly isnít fun, as they soon lose their patience and quit, banging three chords to ease their stress.
Brittle fossils are brought to life by the mellow xylophone, accompanied by the piano and strings. In this section, Saint-SaŽns quotes music from a French folk tune (better known to us as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), Rossiniís Barber of Seville and even the Devilís tune from his own Danse Macabre.
Perhaps the most famous section of the entire work, ĎThe Swaní was also the only one ever performed in Saint-SaŽnsí lifetime; he allowed it to be used in a ballet and it actually became immensely popular. The piano depicts calm, clear, sparkling waters, and the cello glides silently and gracefully along.
All the animals come together again for a delightful finale to the piece. You can hear parts from each of the previous sections played over again here.
Carnival of the Animals
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Ondrej LenŠrd; Narrator: Johnny Morris
This rendition is accompanied by light-hearted poetic narration written by Johnny Morris. Truly entertaining. (Also on CD: Ravel: Mother Goose; Dukas: The Sorcererís Apprentice)
Bernstein Favorites - Children's Classics
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Leonard Bernstein; Narrator: Leonard Bernstein
Sony Classics #46712
A great buy if you want all our three featured pieces on one CD. The music is fantastic, though Bernsteinís narration is not the best. (Also on CD: Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, Op.67; Britten: Young Personís Guide to the Orchestra, Op.34)