CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS (1835–1921)
Carnival of the Animals (1886)
Perfect for a night of merrymaking and celebration, Le carnaval des animaux, grande fantaisie zoologique is a masterpiece of satire, parody, and good-natured fun, presenting a bestiary that includes a lion, an elephant, clucking chickens, kangaroos, gossamer fish, a cuckoo, braying asses, a graceful swan, even fossils and pianists! Saint-Säens achieves many of his delightful effects by unlikely juxtapositions of beasts and music and quotes from other composers: elephants galumphing to the tune of Berlioz’s delicate “Dance of the Sylphs” from The Damnation of Faust; tortoises lumbering in slo-mo to Offenbach’s normally spirited can-can (which you’ll hear on this program as well); fossils (i.e., bones) dancing to a reworked version of Saint-Säens’s own Danse macabre; and, with self-deprecating humor, pianists like himself irritatingly playing scales and other finger exercises with grim determination. A ravishing cello solo depicts the graceful swan, made famous by Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova’s affecting portrayal.