3 January 2011

Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse Macabre

I have wasted quite a lot of time thinking about what piece to post first. So many doubts; should it be short or is long okay, should it be old or new, should it be exciting and in-your-face or should I start things a bit more slowly? And I have to be honest, I'm still a bit worried. But I decided on an exciting yet accessible short piece that will probably be familiar to quite a few of you.

Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse Macabre, symphonic poem for ochestra (first performed 1872)
Performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit.

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was a composer living in Paris where he mainly worked as an organist. I kinda grew up with Danse Macabre, it's one of the first classical music pieces that I remember absolutely loving, I remember it being played quite a lot at home, and my parents feeding my vivid imagination by asking if I could hear the skeletons dance (which I only recently realised was because of this cartoon). As I grew older I mostly fell in love with the dirty-sounding violins and the rhythm. I find a lot of versions on youtube a bit too slow, but this one is perfect (my favourite bit starts at around 5:20, the sliding of the violins always creeps me out).

The piece was originally written as a song for voice and piano, based on a creepy poem by Henri Cazalis. The poem is basically about Death playing a violin, and I would argue that the words are pretty unnecessary when it comes to this piece, the message comes across just as clearly in the instrumental version (has there ever been a more effective use of the xylophone?). But Franz Liszt and Vladimir Horowitz both made piano arrangements of the piece, they're definitely worth listening to.

I'm quite a fan of Saint-Saëns in general, he's actually written my favourite requiem (it's beautiful and I find the organ hilarious, even though I usually hate organs and always disliked requiems until I heard his) and some other works I love, so he'll indubitably turn up on this blog again. But for now, if you're interesting in hearing more, check out his Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin and orchestra, it's beautiful.


  1. I love St Saëns, this song was the first I tried to locate using the XYZ when I was 14 :)

  2. Ooh, yeah, this one's on the telly all the time. Great first choice!

  3. Bij dit nummer kan ik maar één ding denken: Spookslot!!