Iain Farrington

Pianist, organist, composer, arranger

Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse macabre

 for Chamber Orchestra

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) composed his orchestral tone poem Danse macabre, Op. 40, in 1874. At the opening, twelve bell chimes are heard striking midnight, leading to the appearance of ‘Death’ playing his violin. The violin’s tuning is harshly dissonant, sounding a tritone that symbolises the Devil. ‘Death’ summons the skeletons from their graves to join in a ghoulish dance, a perverse waltz that is seductive, passionate and menacing. A full working of the various themes leads to a wild and frantic climax that is brutally cut short by the sound of a cockerel’s crow, signalling dawn. The dance is over and the skeletons quickly return to their graves. After the work’s premiere in 1875, Saint-Saens made two arrangements of the piece, one for two pianos, and another for violin and piano. Franz Liszt made a free virtuoso arrangement of the piece for piano solo, expanding the material and adding his own compositional touches. Saint-Saëns later quoted several themes from the piece in his Le Carnaval des Animaux from 1886, especially in the movement depicting Fossils. This is a version for chamber orchestra of the full score for 15 players.

Instrumentation: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Harp, 2 Percussion (Cymbals, Triangle, Xylophone), Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Violoncello, Double Bass (15 players)

Available to purchase from Aria Editions here

Watch a performance here: