Friday, October 31, 2014



Danse Macabre, Opus 40 
by Camille Saint Saens 
(first performed in 1875) 


The National Philharmonic Orchestra,
Leopold Stokowski, conductor.


This vivid, programmatic work was inspired by a poem of Henri Cazalis, who based it on an old French superstition. In Saint Saen’s orchestral interpretation we hear Death, represented by a solo violin, striking a cadence –– Zig! Zig! Zig! –– Death striking with his heel a tomb –– Death at midnight playing a dance-tune. The winter wind blows, the night is dark –– we hear moans in the linden trees. Through the gloom, stark white skeletons appear –– running and leaping in their shrouds –– each one frisking maniacally. The bones of these ghastly figures crack — But Pssssst! The cock crows, dawn has arrived, and all of a sudden the dancers stop, move forward, take flight and vanish.





According to the ancient superstition, "Death" appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death has the power to call forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. His skeletons dance for him until the first break of dawn, when they must return to their graves until the next year.

The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This leads to Death’s eerie, unsettling rhythmic striking of the tritone (A and Eb) also known as “The Devil's Chord." The main theme is then heard on solo flute followed by a descending scale in the solo violin. 



The Oh BOO G-man!

The rest of the orchestra, particularly the lower strings, join the descending scale. The main theme followed by the descending scale motif is then heard throughout the various sections of the orchestra until it returns to the solo violin and the harp. 

The piece becomes more energetic and reaches a frenzied climax at this point with full orchestra playing with great intensity. Towards the end of the piece  we hear another violin solo soon joined joined by the rest of the orchestra. The final section played pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking as the skeletons return  to their graves.





The work makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. 

[NOTE: Artwork: Remedios Varo, "Les Feuilles Mortes."]


Happy Halloween!

10 comments:

  1. That was Great, I always loved that peice.

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  2. That is "way cool," Thersites.

    No excuse EVER for being bored in THIS world, ich wahr?

    Whodathunkit of LEGO?

    HH!

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  3. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-Q2ni-BgzErs/UN-BxSw83mI/AAAAAAAAAJ8/9EUq7sJ3J_g/s290/hillvamp604.gif

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  4. FT,
    I'm very pressed for time right now, but I want to say "Great job!" in reference to this blog post.

    Happy Halloween!

    ReplyDelete
  5. TDDW,

    Was that photo shot through an ideology removing filter? ;)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. Intrigued and captivated by this Opus.

    Uncanny is the creativity at work in correlating this orchestral masterpiece to the death of liberty at the hands of democrats.

    A bit delusional perhaps. Uncanny nonetheless.

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  8. I thought all the illustrations absolutely spot on, myself. I admire FT's determination not to succumb to the current fashion for deadly dull literalism as so others many do. The indirect approach is more imaginative, more intriguing, more thought-provoking, and more fun, at least to those of us who have not lost all appreciation for colorful, figurative language and literary allusion.

    Thanks, FT, you saved Halloween from becoming a complete washout for me. The significance of the recent display of gourmet recipes was not lost on me either.


    -------> Katharine Heartburn

    ReplyDelete

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