Monday, April 27, 2015

Righteous Classical Music: Danse Macabre [Camille Saint-Saens]

Dear Mister Conductor: May we please play this amazing song for our next concert? It has everything you could possibly want, like a creepy backstory, a breathtaking violin solo part, and some neat percussion! I mean, there's plenty for you to work with here! We'd have a ball!
-Monica (2nd Flute/Piccolo)

Ahem. As you may have gathered, I suddenly find myself a huge fan of this piece of music. So much that I thought it would be worth writing a post about. As you gathered from the title, the piece in question today is Danse Macabre, a tone poem by Camille Saint-Saens. A tone poem is a piece of music, or a symphony that is supposed to tell a story or evoke a scene. Other examples would be the Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz (which I learned all about while eavesdropping on the music appreciation class at school), or Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, by Claude Debussy. The latter is more about establishing the mood of a scene than telling a story, but in my book it still counts. ;)
SO! Danse Macabre is based on old French superstition. They say that every Halloween at midnight, Death (or the Devil, according to some tellings) comes to the graveyard with his violin and plays, forcing the skeletons to dance for him. At dawn the cock crows, and he stops playing and the skeletons must return to their graves to wait all year for another night of hard partying.
The symphony begins with a harp, playing the note D twelve consecutive times, to represent the coming of Midnight.
After that, there's a little quiet part, and then out of nowhere the violin soloist plays dissonant, eerie doublestops that if you're not expecting, can be a bit of a jump moment. The solo violinist 'plays' Death, and it's actually pretty cool. The violin soloist has to tune his E string down a half step to Eb, in part for the tritone chords at the beginning. It sounds wicked awesome.
Anyway, so next, the main theme is carried by the flute (yay!). Except that the flute doesn't seem to play any character (like the violin, or later the oboe) or serve any symbolic purpose (like the harp or xylophone), it's just there.
The whole piece has a terrifically eerie feel to it. I get shivers down my spine listening to it! Enjoy...

Next Up!: Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity by Gustav Holst

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