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Carnaval des animaux, Le (Camille Saint-Saëns)




1. Introduction et Marche royale du Lion (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion) – 2. Poules et Coqs (Hens and Roosters) – 3. Hémiones (Onagers) – 4. Tortues (Tortoises) – 5. L’Éléphant (The Elephant) – 6. Kangourous (Kangaroos) – 7. Aquarium – 8. Personnages à longues oreilles (Long-Eared Characters) – 9. Le Coucou au fond des bois (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods) – 10. Volière (Aviary) – 11. Pianistes (Pianists) – 12. Fossiles (Fossils) – 13. Le Cygne (The Swan) – 14. Final (Finale)


For more than thirty years, Saint-Saëns kept his Carnaval des animaux concealed, well aware that it would outshine the rest of his production. In February 1886, after a tour in Mitteleuropa, he took a little holiday in Austria, where he composed his “Grande Fantaisie zoologique” (“Grand Zoological Fantasy”, as his score is subtitled). Contemporary with the Symphony No. 3 “with organ” (given its first public performance in May of that year), it was premiered privately on 9 March 1886, during the Mardi Gras concert organized in Paris by the cellist Lebouc. Among the other instrumentalists were Taffanel (flute), Turban (clarinet), and Diémer and the composer (at the two pianos). After a few performances, Saint-Saëns opposed the circulation and publication of the work (Durand only published it in the spring of 1922, a few months after the composer’s death). He nevertheless authorized the printing of Le Cygne, dedicated to Lebouc, and its use by Michel Fokine, who choreographed La Mort du cygne for Anna Pavlova in 1905. To amuse his musician friends, he distorted the numerous quotations he introduced: the French cancan theme from Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers, played very slowly by the Tortoises; the “Ballet des sylphes” from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, entrusted to a double bass depicting the Elephant; in Fossils, his own Danse macabre, whose xylophone alternates with J’ai du bon tabac, Ah! Vous dirai-je vous maman and the aria “Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia. Other movements are more prone to poetic evocation (Aquarium, Volière, Le Cygne), showing that the same musician could display an irresistible humour and the utmost seriousness.

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  • SAINT-SAËNS, Camille (1835-1921)
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  • Courant – Musique pure et musique descriptive au XIXe siècle