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Saint-Saens, The Carnival Of The Animals

Saint-Saens, The Carnival Of The Animals

Update: 2022-09-15
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In 1922 a review appeared in the French newspaper Le Figaro: “We cannot describe the cries of admiring joy let loose by an enthusiastic public. In the immense oeuvre of Camille Saint-Saëns, The Carnival of the Animals is certainly one of his magnificent masterpieces. From the first note to the last it is an uninterrupted outpouring of a spirit of the highest and noblest comedy. In every bar, at every point, there are unexpected and irresistible finds. Themes, whimsical ideas, instrumentation compete with buffoonery, grace and science. ... When he likes to joke, the master never forgets that he is the master.” You would think that this review came after a triumphant performance for Saint-Saens, and that he basked in the glory of the major success of what would become perhaps his most well known work, the Carnival of the Animals. But it just wasn’t the case. In fact, this review appeared after a performance of the piece given after Saint-Saens death, and there was a reason for that. Saint-Saens, after 3 private performances of the piece, forbade it from being performed publicly during his lifetime. Why? Well, he was concerned that this lighthearted piece would diminish his standing as a serious composer. Even in the mid 1880s when this piece was written, Saint-Saens began to evince the conservatism, musical and otherwise, that would mark his later career, to the point that he wanted Stravinsky declared insane and said this about Debussy: "We must at all costs bar the door of the Institut against a man capable of such atrocities; they should be put next to the cubist pictures." Why was Saint-Saens so opposed to modernism? Why was he so concerned with his reputation as a serious composer, to the point that he suppressed this wonderfully creative piece? And just what makes the Carnival of the Animals so fantastic and so much fun to listen to, as well as being so vivid in its portrayals of the animals it represents? Join us to find out!

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Saint-Saens, The Carnival Of The Animals

Saint-Saens, The Carnival Of The Animals

Joshua Weilerstein