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Carnaval des animaux, Le : Le Cygne (Camille Saint-Saëns)

Date

1886

Text

“The Swan” was the only piece from Saint-Saëns’ delightful Carnival of the Animals of 1886—a work bursting with humour, poetic charm and original sound combinations—that the composer wanted to publish during his lifetime. This is probably because it was one of the few pieces from the work that did not openly make fun of certain composers or instrumentalists, and was in no danger of denting Saint-Saëns’ reputation as a serious composer. The Carnival’s thirteenth and penultimate movement, “The Swan” depicts the grace of the long-necked bird calmly gliding over the water with a gorgeous melody played on the cello. Legato and marked “Andantino grazioso”, this is given an almost constant accompaniment by two dreamy pianos: broken arpeggios played by one regularly interspersed with arpeggiated chords played by the other. The poignant mood of the piece and its accessibility secured its immediate success and gave rise to numerous arrangements. The simplest substituted one piano for the two pianos, but there were many others, including transcriptions for cello and orchestra, flute and piano, double bass and orchestra, string quartet, panpipes and guitar, or solo piano. Saint-Saëns modestly described the pièce as a “noble trifle”… but presumably did not turn his nose up at the substantial royalties it generated. Interestingly, Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, subtitled “Grande fantaisie zoologique” (Grand Zoological Fantasy”), was premiered at a private salon on 9 March 1886, but only received its first public performance on 25 February 1922, two months after the composer’s death, conducted by Gabriel Pierné.

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  • SAINT-SAËNS, Camille (1835-1921)