Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre
Thought we’d have some fun, being that it is October, and present some darker, “spooky” classical music to fit with the season. I’ve introduced Camille Saint-Saens before with “Aquarium” (pronounced like sayn-saww; he’s French) and he’s been one of my favorite composers for a while, and this is one of my favorite pieces of his. It’s just a great piece that’s loads of fun to listen to even when it’s not October.
This particular piece is classified as a “tone poem,” a single, continuous movement that illustrates or evokes a story, a poem, or even a painting or a landscape. Danse Macabre is based on an old French legend that says Death comes out at midnight every year on Halloween and calls forth the dead from their graves to dance while he plays the fiddle. To start the piece, you hear the harp play a single note twelve times, signifying the twelve strokes of midnight. Then Death’s fiddle chimes in (the violin) with dissonant chords; this particular chord is called a tritone, which is also commonly referred to as the “Devil’s internal.” The violin’s E string has also purposefully been tuned down to an E-flat to achieve this. Saint-Saëns uses the xylophone to imitate the sound of rattling bones as the skeletons dance until the rooster crows at dawn (played by the oboe), at which point they have to return to their graves.
It’s all quite clever, really. If you listen to the piece with these things in mind, it really brings it so much more to life, for a song about the dead. Maybe it’ll even get you up and dancing with your creaky bones too.