The Carnival of the Animals (Le carnaval des animaux) is a humorous musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-SaГ«ns. The work was written for private performance by an ad hoc ensemble of two pianos and other instruments, and lasts around 25 minutes.
Following a disastrous concert tour of Germany in 1885вЂ“86, Saint-SaГ«ns 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 Bв™), glass harmonica, and xylophone.
From the beginning, Saint-SaГ«ns regarded the work as a piece of fun. On 9 February 1886 he wrote to his publishers Durand in Paris that he was composing a work for the coming Shrove Tuesday, and confessing that he knew he should be working on his Third Symphony, but that this work was "such fun" ("... mais c'est si amusant!"). He had apparently intended to write the work for his students at the Г‰cole Niedermeyer, but it was first performed at a private concert given by the cellist Charles Lebouc on Shrove Tuesday, 9 March 1886.
A second (private) performance was given on 2 April at the home of Pauline Viardot with an audience including Franz Liszt, a friend of the composer, who had expressed a wish to hear the work. There were other private performances, typically for the French mid-Lent festival of Mi-CarГЄme, but Saint-SaГ«ns was adamant that the work would not be published in his lifetime, seeing it as detracting from his "serious" composer image. He relented only for the famous cello solo The Swan, which forms the penultimate movement of the work, and which was published in 1887 in an arrangement by the composer for cello and solo piano (the original uses two pianos).
Saint-SaГ«ns did specify in his will that the work should be published posthumously. Following his death in December 1921, the work was published by Durand in Paris in April 1922 and the first public performance was given on 25 February 1922 by Concerts Colonne (the orchestra of Г‰douard Colonne).
Carnival has since become one of Saint-SaГ«ns's best-known works, played by the original eleven instrumentalists, or more often with the full string section of an orchestra. Normally a glockenspiel substitutes for the rare glass harmonica. Ever popular with music teachers and young children, it is often recorded in combination with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf or Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.
There are fourteen movements, each representing a different animal or animals:
IВ Introduction et marche royale du lionВ (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion)
StringsВ and twoВ 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 highВ ostinatos. The two groups of instruments switch places, with the pianos playing a higher, softer version of the melody. The movement ends with a fortissimo note from all the instruments used in this movement.
IIВ Poules et coqsВ (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. The piano plays a very fast theme based on the crowing of a rooster's Cock a Doodle Doo.
IIIВ HГ©miones (animaux vГ©loces)В (Wild Asses: Swift 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. These areВ dziggetai, asses that come from Tibet and are known for their great speed.
IVВ TortuesВ (Tortoises)
Strings and piano: a satirical movement which opens with a piano playing a pulsing triplet figure in the higher register. The strings play a slow rendition of the famous 'Galop infernal' (commonly called theВ Can-can) fromВ Offenbach'sВ operettaВ Orpheus in the Underworld.
VВ L'Г©lГ©phantВ (The Elephant)
Double bassВ and piano: this section is markedВ 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 jokeвЂ”the thematic material is taken from the Scherzo fromВ Mendelssohn'sВ incidental music toВ A Midsummer Night's DreamВ andВ Berlioz's "Dance of the Sylphs" fromВ The Damnation of Faust. 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-SaГ«ns moves this to the lowest and heaviest-sounding instrument in the orchestra, the double bass.
VIВ KangourousВ (Kangaroos)
Two pianos: the main figure here is a pattern of 'hopping' fifths preceded by grace notes. When the fifths ascend, the tempo gradually speeds up and the dynamics get louder, and when the fifths descend, the tempo gradually slows down and the dynamics get quieter.
Part of the original manuscript score of "Aquarium". The top staff was written for the (glass) "Harmonica".В
Two violins, viola, cello (string quartet), 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,В glissando-like runs in the piano. The first piano plays a descending ten-on-oneВ ostinato, in the style of the second ofВ Chopin'sВ Г©tudes, while the second plays a six-on-one. These figures, plus the occasionalВ glissandoВ from the glass harmonicaвЂ”often played onВ celestaВ orВ glockenspielвЂ”are evocative of a peaceful, dimly-lit aquarium. According to British music journalistВ Fritz Spiegl, there is a recording of the movement featuring virtuosoВ harmonicaВ playerВ Tommy ReillyвЂ”apparently he was hired by mistake instead of a player of the glass harmonica.В The recording in question is of the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra on the Naxos label.[not in citation given]
VIIIВ Personnages Г longues oreillesВ (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"). Music critics have speculated that the movement is meant to compare music critics to braying donkeys.
IXВ Le coucou au fond des boisВ (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-noteВ ostinato, over and over; a C and an Aв™, mimicking the call of a cuckoo bird. Saint-SaГ«ns states in the original score that the clarinetist should be offstage.
XВ VoliГЁreВ (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 pings and trills of other birds in the background. The movement ends very quietly after a long ascending chromatic scale from the flute.
XIВ PianistesВ (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, Dв™, D and Eв™В 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. In some performances, the later, more difficult, scales are deliberately played increasingly out of time. The original edition has a note by the editors instructing the players to imitate beginners and their awkwardness.В After the four scales, the key changes back to C, where the pianos play a moderate speed trill-like pattern in thirds, in the style ofВ Charles-Louis HanonВ orВ Carl Czerny, 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.
Title page to "Fossils" in the manuscript including drawing by the composer
XIIВ FossilesВ (Fossils)
Strings, two pianos, clarinet, and xylophone: here, Saint-SaГ«ns mimics his own composition, theВ 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 fromВ Danse macabreВ 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 hereвЂ”octaves that jump in quick thirds. Allusions to "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" (better known in the English-speaking world asВ Twinkle Twinkle Little Star), the French nursery rhymes "Au clair de la lune", and "J'ai du bon tabac" (the piano plays the same melody upside down), the popular anthemВ Partant pour la Syrie, as well as the ariaВ Una voce poco faВ fromВ Rossini'sВ The Barber of SevilleВ can also be heard. The musical joke in this movement, according toВ Leonard Bernstein's narration on his recording of the work with the New York Philharmonic, is that the musical pieces quoted are the fossils of Saint-SaГ«ns's time.
XIIIВ Le cygneВ (The Swan)
Two pianos and cello: 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 (said to represent the swan's feet, hidden from view beneath the water, propelling it along).
A staple of the cello repertoire, this is one of the most well-known movements of the suite, usually in the version for cello with solo piano which was the only publication of this work in Saint-SaГ«ns's lifetime. More than twenty other arrangements of this movement have also been published, with solo instruments ranging from flute to alto saxophone.
A short ballet,В The Dying Swan, was choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine to this movement and performed byВ Anna Pavlova. Pavlova gave some 4,000 performances of the dance and "swept the world."
XIVВ FinalВ (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, theВ glass harmonicaВ and the xylophone. The strings build the tension with a few low notes, leading toВ glissandiВ by the piano, then a pause before the lively main melody is introduced. The Finale is somewhat reminiscent of an American carnival of the 19th 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-SaГ«ns' compositions for piano; dazzling scales, glissandi and trills. Many of the previous movements are quoted here from the introduction, the lion, the asses, hens, and kangaroos. The work ends with a series of six "Hee Haws" from the Jackasses, as if to say that the Jackass has the last laugh, before the final strong group of C major chords.