J.S. Bach: Toccata und Fuge in B moll

>> Saturday, October 31, 2009

I saved this one for last because of all the pieces I have chosen in this series, this piece has come to typify Halloween for most people.  I hardly think that Bach would have ever dreamed that his masterful toccata and fugue, which was meant to be played in the church, would become the American musical Halloween icon.  So now I present the J.S. Bach - Toccata und Fuge BWV 565 played by Hans-Andre Stamm. 

Thus ends my Thirty-one days of Halloween music series. This one was a challenge, but I had a great time searching and researching all of the pieces that I have presented, and I hope that you have enjoyed them as well!

Have a very happy and safe Halloween!


Richard Wagner: Götterdämmerung, Siegfried's Funeral March

>> Friday, October 30, 2009

Act 3 Siegfried rejoins the hunters, who include Gunther and Hagen. While resting, he tells them about the adventures of his youth. Hagen gives him another potion, which restores his memory, and he tells of discovering the sleeping Brünnhilde and awakening her with a kiss. Hagen stabs him in the back with his spear. The others look on in horror, and Hagen explains in three words ("Meineid rächt sich!" - Perjury avenges itself) that since Siegfried admitted loving Brunnhilde, the oath he swore on Hagen's spear was obviously false, therefore it was Hagen's duty to kill him with it. Hagen calmly walks away into the wood. Siegfried recollects his awakening of Brünnhilde and dies. His body is carried away in a solemn funeral procession (Siegfried's funeral march) that forms the interlude as the scene is changed and recapitulates much of the music associated with Siegfried and the Walsungs.


Karl Jenkins' Requiem: Dies Irae

>> Thursday, October 29, 2009

Released in 2005, Requiem is an album by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. In this work, Jenkins interjects movements featuring Japanese death poems in the form of a haiku with those traditionally encountered in a Requiem Mass. At times, the Latin text is sung below the text of the haiku.


Beethoven: Funeral March from Symphony No 3 in E flat major, "Eroica"

>> Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beethoven had originally conceived of dedicating the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte. The biographer Maynard Solomon relates that Beethoven admired the ideals of the French Revolution, and Napoleon as their embodiment. In the autumn the composer began to have second thoughts about that dedication. It would have deprived him of a fee that he would receive if he instead dedicated the symphony to Prince Franz Joseph Maximillian Lobkowitz. Nevertheless, he still considered giving the work the title of Bonaparte.

When Napoleon was proclaimed Emperor of France in May 1804, Beethoven became disgusted and went to the table where the completed score lay. He took hold of the title-page and scratched the name Bonaparte out so violently with a knife that he created a hole in the paper. He later changed the title to Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire d'un grand'uomo ("heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man").


Mozart: Piano Concerto 23 in A-major K. 488, Adagio

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I chose this piece because of it's melancholy, almost mournful feel, and the fact that it was composed and performed around the time that Le Nozze di Figaro was being rehearsed, just before it's May 1, 1786 premiere.  Being that today is the 244th anniversary of Nancy Storace's (the original Susanna in Figaro), birth, I like to think that perhaps Mozart was longing for her, when he composed this.

The Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major (K. 488) is a musical composition written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was finished, according to Mozart's own catalogue, on March 2, 1786, around the time of the premiere of his opera, The Marriage of Figaro. It was one of three subscription concerts given that spring and was probably played by Mozart himself at one of these. The concerto is scored for flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings.

It has three movements: 1. Allegro in A major and common time
2. Adagio in F-sharp minor and 6/8 time
3. Allegro assai in A and crossed common time.

The second movement, in ternary form, is impassioned and somewhat operatic in tone. The piano begins alone with a theme characterized by unusually wide leaps. This is the only movement by Mozart in F sharp minor.


Dies Irae: Day of Wrath from Verdi's Requiem

>> Monday, October 26, 2009

The Messa da Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral Mass (called the Requiem from the first word of the text, which begins Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, meaning, "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord"—see the entry at "Dies Irae"). It was first performed on 22 May 1874 to mark the first anniversary of the death of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist much admired by Verdi. The piece is also sometimes referred to as the Manzoni Requiem.


Verdi's MacBeth: Witches' Chorus "Tre volte miagola la gatta in fregola"

>> Sunday, October 25, 2009

Macbeth is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi, with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Piave and additions by Andrea Maffei, based on Shakespeare's play of the same name. It was Verdi's tenth opera and also the first of Shakespeare's plays which he adapted for the operatic stage.

Written after the success of Atilla in 1846 by which time the composer had become well established, it was before the great successes of 1850 to 1853, Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata which propelled him into universal fame. As sources, Shakespeare's plays provided Verdi with lifelong inspiration: some, such as King Lear were never realized but he wrote his two final operas using Othello as the basis for Otello (1887) and The Merry Wives of Windsor as the basis for Falstaff (1893).

The first version of Macbeth was completed during the middle of what Verdi was to describe as his "galley years". Ranging from 1842 to 1850, this period saw the composer produce 14 operas, but by the standards of the subject matter of almost all Italian operas during the first fifty years of the 19th century, Macbeth was highly unusual. The 1847 version was very successful and it was presented widely. Pleased with his opera and with its reception, Verdi wrote to Antonio Barezzi, his former father-in-law and long-time supporter, on 25 March 1847 just about two weeks after the premiere: "I have long intended to dedicate an opera to you, who have been father, benefactor, and friend to me. It was a duty I should have fulfilled sooner if imperious circumstances had not prevented me. Now, I send you Macbeth which I prize above all my other operas, and therefore deem worthier to present to you"

The 1865 revision, produced for Paris in a French translation and with several additions, was less successful and the opera largely faded from public view until the mid-20th century revivals.

2005, Gran Teatre del Liceu
Conductor - Bruno Campanella
Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu

Act III, Scene 1
Chorus "Tre volte miagola la gatta in fregola"
Setting: The witches' cave


Mozart Requiem: Lacrimosa (Weeping)

>> Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus,
pie Jesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.

That day of tears and mourning,
when from the ashes shall arise,
all humanity to be judged.
Spare us by your mercy, Lord,
gentle Lord Jesus,
grant them eternal rest. Amen.



Frederic Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35, Marche funèbre: Lento

>> Friday, October 23, 2009

While the term "funeral march" is perhaps a fitting description of the 3rd movement, complete with the Lento interlude in D flat major, "Chopin's Funeral March" is used commonly to describe only the funeral march proper (in B flat minor). The "funeral march" has become well known in popular culture. It was also used at the state funerals of John F. Kennedy and those of Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev. It was transcribed for full orchestra by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar in 1933 and its first performance was at his own memorial concert the next year. It was played at the graveside during Chopin's own burial at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.


Franz Liszt: Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch (Mourning-play & Mourning March)

>> Thursday, October 22, 2009

Franz Liszt (Hungarian: Ferencz Liszt, in modern usage also Ferenc Liszt, from 1859 to 1865 officially Franz Ritter von Liszt) (October 22, 1811 – July 31, 1886) was a Hungarian composer, virtuoso pianist and teacher.

Liszt became renowned throughout Europe during the 19th century for his great skill as a performer. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age and perhaps the greatest pianist of all time. He was also an important and influential composer, a notable piano teacher, a conductor who contributed significantly to the modern development of the art, and a benefactor to other composers and performers, notably Richard Wagner, Hector Berlioz, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Grieg and Alexander Borodin.
As a composer, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the "Neudeutsche Schule" ("New German School"). He left behind a huge and diverse body of work, in which he influenced his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated some 20th-century ideas and trends. Some of his most notable contributions were the invention of the symphonic poem, developing the concept of thematic transformation as part of his experiments in musical form and making radical departures in harmony.


Gustav Mahler: Kindertotenlieder (Children's Death Songs)

>> Wednesday, October 21, 2009

III. "Wenn dein Mutterlein

When your mother
steps in through the door
and I turn my head
to see at her,
falling on her face
my gaze does not first fall,
but at the place
nearer the doorstep,
there, where your
dear little face would be,
when you with bright joy
step inside,
as you used to, my little daughter.
When your mother
steps in through the door
with the glowing candle,
it seems to me, always
you came in too,
hurrying behind her,
as you used to come into the room.
Oh you, a father's cell,
ah too quickly
bright joy lost too soon!



Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Third Mvt. "Funeral March"

>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This is Mahler's famous funeral march written in the form of a canon and based upon the children's song, Frère Jacques, played in the minor. It is also famous for opening with a contrabass solo.

Michael Tilson Thomas; San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.


Jean Sibelius: Valse Triste, The Waltz of Death

>> Monday, October 19, 2009

Sibelius achieved his greatest popularity with Valse triste, a sad waltz which he composed for a play called Death, written by his brother-in-law Arvid Järnefelt. But Sibelius’s immediate circle feared that he was dancing a real Waltz of Death because of his way of living. "Janne, you must give up alcohol. You must," his brother Christian wrote to him on 19th November 1903.


Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - Herbert von Karajan, 1983


Mozart: Die Zauberflöte: Der Hölle Rache (The Wrath of Hell)

>> Sunday, October 18, 2009

This is probably the most magnificent performance ever of The Queen of the Night's most famous aria I've ever heard.  The German soprano, Diana Damrau sings with conviction, expression, and confidence.  A most chilling and terrifying experience!


Purcell: Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary: March

>> Saturday, October 17, 2009

Purcell is among the Baroque composers who has had a direct influence on modern rock and roll; according to Pete Townshend of The Who, Purcell was among his influences, particularly evident in the opening bars of The Who's "Pinball Wizard". The song "Procession" by British rock band Queen is obviously inspired by the processional section from Purcell's "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary," which was also adapted for the synthesizer by Wendy Carlos to serve as the theme music for the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Meanwhile, noted cult New Wave artist Klaus Nomi regularly performed "The Cold Song" from King Arthur during his career, including a version on his debut self-titled album, Klaus Nomi, from 1981; his last public performance before his untimely death was an interpretation of the piece done with a full orchestra in December 1982 in Munich. Purcell wrote the song for a bass, but numerous countertenors have performed the piece in homage to Nomi. In the 21st century, the soundtrack to the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice features a dance titled "A Postcard to Henry Purcell," which is a version by composer Dario Marianelli of the Abdelazar theme.


Gabriel Fauré: Requiem: Libera Me

>> Friday, October 16, 2009

Libera me, Domine, de morte aeterna
in die illa tremenda
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra,
dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo,
dum discussion venerit atque venture ira:
quando coeli movendi sunt et terra.

Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death
on that awful day
when the heavens and earth shall be shaken
and you shall come to judge the world by fire.

I am seized with fear and trembling
until the trial is at hand and the wrath to come:
when the heavens and earth shall be shaken.

Featured soloist: Baritone, James Morris
Atlanta Symphony and Chorus


Dido's Lament from Purcell's "Dido & Aeneas"

>> Thursday, October 15, 2009

Act III   Dido and Belinda enter, shocked at Aeneas’ disappearance. Dido is distraught and Belinda comforts her. Suddenly Aeneas returns, but Dido is full of fear before Aeneas speaks, and his words only serve to confirm her suspicions. She derides his reasons for leaving, and even when Aeneas says he will defy the gods and not leave Carthage, Dido rejects him for having once thought of leaving her. After Dido forces Aeneas to leave, she states that "Death must come when he is gone." The opera and Dido's life both slowly come to a conclusion, as the Queen of Carthage sings her last aria, "When I am laid in Earth", also known as "Dido's Lament." The chorus and orchestra then conclude the opera once Dido is dead by ordering the "cupids to scatter roses on her tomb, soft and gentle as her heart. Keep here your watch, and never never never part."

Dido's lament from Purcell's Dido&Aeneas, by the mezzo Xenia Meijer. She teaches Singing in the conservatory of Tilburg, The Netherlands.  


Dies Irae: Day of Wrath from Mozart's Requiem

>> Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composed in Vienna in 1791, during the last year of the composer's life. The requiem was Mozart's last composition and is one of his most popular and respected works, although the question of how much of the music Mozart managed to complete before his death and how much was later composed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr or others is still debated.

The Requiem is scored for 2 basset-horns in F, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets in D, 3 trombones (alto, tenor & bass), timpani (2 drums), violins, viola and basso continuo (cello, double bass, and organ or harpsichord). The vocal forces include soprano, alto, tenor, and bass soloists and an SATB mixed chorus.


The Masquerade Waltz by Aram Khachaturyan

>> Tuesday, October 13, 2009

You don't even know how hard I worked to find this one!  When I was a teenager I used to listen to this waltz on the stereo all the time, but I couldn't remember it's name or who composed it.  Then I remembered that out in the garage I had the collection of  33 LP's that it was on, stored in a box.  So I dug through and I found it!  This has always been one of my very favorites, so today I'm featuring it in honor of the 2nd Annual Willow Manor Ball.


Verdi's "La Traviata": Violetta's Death Scene

>> Monday, October 12, 2009

Dr. Grenvil tells Annina that Violetta will not live long since her tuberculosis has worsened. Alone in her room, Violetta reads a letter from Alfredo’s father telling her that the Baron was only wounded in his duel with Alfredo; that he has informed Alfredo of the sacrifice she has made for him and his sister; and that he is sending his son to see her as quickly as possible to ask for her forgiveness. But Violetta senses it is too late (Violetta: Addio del passato – "So closes my sad story").
Annina rushes in the room to tell Violetta of Alfredo's arrival. The lovers are reunited and Alfredo suggests that they leave Paris (Alfredo, Violetta: Parigi, o cara , noi lasceremo – "Dearest, we’ll leave Paris" ).
But it is too late: she knows her time is up (Alfredo, Violetta: Gran Dio! morir si giovane – "O, God! to die so young"). Alfredo's father enters with the doctor, regretting what he has done. Very quickly, Violetta dies in Alfredo’s arms.

Renée Fleming as Violeta, Rollando Villázon as Alfredo and Renato Bruson as Germont singing the last scene of Verdi's La Traviata. Conductor James Conlon, Los Angeles Opera, 2006 


The Hungarian Suicide Song: Gloomy Sunday

>> Sunday, October 11, 2009

Gloomy Sunday is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress in 1933 to a Hungarian poem written by László Jávor (original Hungarian title of both song and poem "Szomorú vasárnap") in which the singer mourns the untimely death of a lover and contemplates suicide.

Though recorded and performed by many singers, Gloomy Sunday is closely associated with Billie Holiday, who scored a hit version of the song in 1941. Due to unsubstantiated urban legends about its inspiring hundreds of suicides, "Gloomy Sunday" was dubbed the "Hungarian suicide song" in the United States. Seress did commit suicide in 1968, but most other rumors of the song being banned from radio, or sparking suicides, are unsubstantiated, and were partly propagated as a deliberate marketing campaign. Possibly due to the context of the Second World War, Billie Holiday's version was, however, banned by the BBC.

Gloomy Sunday with a hundred white flowers
I was waiting for you my dearest with a prayer
A Sunday morning, chasing after my dreams
The carriage of my sorrow returned to me without you
It is since then that my Sundays have been forever sad
Tears my only drink, the sorrow my bread...

Gloomy Sunday
Information Source: Wikipedia


Mozart's Don Giovanni: The Commandatore's Ghost

>> Saturday, October 10, 2009

 In one of the darkest scenes in all of opera, Mozart brings forth an apparition to judge the lecherous Don Giovanni and drag from him a confession and repentance or cast him into hell.  Thrilling and terrifying.

Don Giovanni - Rodney Gilfry
Leporello - László Polgár
Commendatore - Matti Salminen


Der Erlkönig by Franz Schubert

>> Friday, October 9, 2009

Der Erlkönig (often called just Erlkönig) is a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It depicts the death of a child assailed by a supernatural being, the Erlking or "Erlkönig" (suggesting the literal translation "alder king", but see below). It was originally composed by Goethe as part of a 1782 ballad opera entitled Die Fischerin.

The poem has been used as the text for lieder (art songs for voice and piano) by many classical composers, the most famous undoubtedly being that of Franz Schubert, his Opus 1 (D. 328).

Goethe's poem begins with a young boy being brought home by his father. The meaning is somewhat ambiguous, as the word "Hof" has the rather generic meaning of "yard" or "court". In this case, however, it is a short form of "farmyard" (though the long form "Bauernhof" is more common for this sense). The ambiguity about the father's social rank is quite acceptable because any father would have similar feelings about a son or daughter so ill and in pain.

The poem begins by giving the impression that the child is simply dying from a vague, unspecified ailment and sees death as a figment of his imagination. As it proceeds, the poem takes an ever darker twist and ends with the child's death.

One story has it that Goethe was visiting a friend when, late one night, a dark figure carrying a bundle in its arms was seen riding past the gate at high speed. The next day Goethe and his friend were told that they had seen a farmer taking his sick son to the doctor. This incident, along with the legend, is said to have been the main inspiration for the poem.

Some readers, visualising the father's embrace of his ailing son, may assume that the child is sick and in need of medical attention. However, the poem's characterisation of the child's condition is ambiguous.

Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He holds the boy in the crook of his arm
He holds him safe, he keeps him warm.

"My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?"
"Father, do you not see the Elfking?
The Elfking with crown and tail?"
"My son, it's a wisp of fog."

"You lovely child, come, go with me!
Many a beautiful game I'll play with you;
Some colourful flowers are on the shore,
My mother has many golden robes."

"My father, my father, can't you hear,
What the Elfking quietly promised me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind rustles through dry leaves."

"Do you want to come with me, dear boy?
My daughters shall wait on you fine;
My daughters lead the nightly dances
And will rock and dance and sing you to sleep."

"My father, my father, can't you see there,
The Elfking's daughters in the gloomy place?"
"My son, my son, I see it well:
The old willows they shimmer so grey."

"I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you're not willing, I shall use force."
"My father, my father, he's grabbing me now!
The Elfking has done me harm!"

The father shudders; he rides swiftly,
He holds the moaning child in his arms.
He can hardly manage to reach his farm;
In his arms, the child was dead.

Franz Schubert : Erlkönig (D328) (from Goethe's Ballade): the incomparable performance of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau 


Dies Irae: Day of Wrath from the Gregorian Tradition

>> Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) is a famous thirteenth century Latin hymn thought to be written by Thomas of Celano. It is a medieval Latin poem, differing from classical Latin by its accentual (non-quantitative) stress and its rhymed lines. The meter is trochaic. The poem describes the day of judgment, the last trumpet summoning souls before the throne of God, where the saved will be delivered and the unsaved cast into eternal flames.

The hymn is best known from its use as a sequence in the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. It was removed from the Catholic liturgy in the liturgical reform of 1969-1970, but can still be heard when the older form of the Mass is used. An English version of it is found in various missals used in the Anglican Communion.

Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!

Oh, what fear man's bosom rendeth,
when from heaven the Judge descendeth,
on whose sentence all dependeth.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
through earth's sepulchers it ringeth;
all before the throne it bringeth.

Death is struck, and nature quaking,
all creation is awaking,
to its Judge an answer making.

Lo! the book, exactly worded,
wherein all hath been recorded:
thence shall judgment be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth,
and each hidden deed arraigneth,
nothing unavenged remaineth.

What shall I, frail man, be pleading?
Who for me be interceding,
when the just are mercy needing?

King of Majesty tremendous,
who dost free salvation send us,
Fount of pity, then befriend us!

Think, good Jesus, my salvation
cost thy wondrous Incarnation;
leave me not to reprobation!

Faint and weary, thou hast sought me,
on the cross of suffering bought me.
shall such grace be vainly brought me?

Righteous Judge! for sin's pollution
grant thy gift of absolution,
ere the day of retribution.

Guilty, now I pour my moaning,
all my shame with anguish owning;
spare, O God, thy suppliant groaning!

Thou the sinful woman savedst;
thou the dying thief forgavest;
and to me a hope vouchsafest.

Worthless are my prayers and sighing,
yet, good Lord, in grace complying,
rescue me from fires undying!

With thy favored sheep O place me;
nor among the goats abase me;
but to thy right hand upraise me.

While the wicked are confounded,
doomed to flames of woe unbounded
call me with thy saints surrounded.

Low I kneel, with heart submission,
see, like ashes, my contrition;
help me in my last condition.


The Lord of the Rings: Symphony: The Black Riders

>> Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I don't know about you, but when I read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series when I was a teenager, the mere description of the Ringwraiths or Black Riders sent me hiding under my bed covers, but when I saw the movie, they scared the caa-caa out of me! I'm convinced that a great deal of that terrifying effect came from Howard Shore's amazing film score.  


Compelled to die for love: Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor"

>> Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Act III  Scene 3: The graveyard of the Ravenswood family
Edgardo is resolved to kill himself on Enrico's sword. He learns that Lucia is dying and then Raimondo comes to tell him that she has already died. Edgardo stabs himself with a dagger, hoping to be re-unified with Lucia in heaven.

This scene features the fabulous Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala, as Edgardo.


The final breaths: Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, K. 477

>> Monday, October 5, 2009

Unless you're an avid student of Mozart, you've probably never heard this piece nor did you know that it existed.  However, I would rank it as one of his best due to the tonal imagery that he used to create the sounds of death.  As you listen to the first bars you can actually hear the labored "breathing in and breathing out", followed by the final breath as the soul passes through the veil.  You will also hear his use of the trombones, an instrument that in Mozart's day was only used in funeral music and/or Requiem masses.


Hauntingly lovely: Pavane by Gabriel Fauré

>> Sunday, October 4, 2009

Between the gorgeous music by Gabriel Fauré and the riveting images of the Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, Italy, this video has become one of my very favorites on YouTube.  I go back to it often to reflect, to listen, to cry, to ponder.  It's a beautiful tribute to humanity's ever-constant struggle with death.

I thought it entirely appropriate for my "Thirty-one days of Halloween" series. If you watch it, you'll see why.


Dark & Seductive: The Phantom of the Opera: Point of No Return

>> Saturday, October 3, 2009

There are no words to describe this scene.  It's simply marvelous; theater at its very best.


Purcell conjours up a frightful scene: The Witches Scene from "Dido & Aeneas"

>> Friday, October 2, 2009

One of my favorite early Baroque operas, Purcell's Dido & Aeneas, contains a scene which introduces the antagonist, the Sorceress.  I hesitate to call her a villain, for in the original Greek version, she is merely a goddess who controls the fates.  However, for Purcell's tale, she takes on the disguise of a witch and the fates, her demon minions.

I sang this role several years ago and fell in love with it. If you ever get the rare opportunity to see a production of this piece, I highly recommend it.  It's well worth it.


Halloween goes Classical: Camille Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre

>> Thursday, October 1, 2009

Danse Macabre (first performed in 1875) is the name of opus 40 by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

The composition is based upon a poem by Henri Cazalis, on an old French superstition: Zig, zig, zig, Death in a cadence, Striking with his heel a tomb, Death at midnight plays a dance-tune, Zig, zig, zig, on his violin. The winter wind blows and the night is dark; Moans are heard in the linden trees. Through the gloom, white skeletons pass, Running and leaping in their shrouds. Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking, The bones of the dancers are heard to crack— But hist! of a sudden they quit the round, They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

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 (represented by a solo violin with its E-string tuned to an E-flat in an example of scordatura tuning). 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 then leads to the eerie E flat and A chords (also known as a tritone or the "Devil's chord") played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. After which the main theme is heard on a solo flute and is followed by a descending scale on the solo violin. The rest of the orchestra, particularly the lower instruments of the string section, then joins in on the descending scale. The main theme and the scale is then heard throughout the various sections of the orchestra until it breaks to the solo violin and the harp playing the scale. The piece becomes more energetic and climaxes at this point; the full orchestra playing with strong dynamics.Towards the end of the piece, there is another violin solo, now modulating, which is then joined by the rest of the orchestra. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves.

The piece makes particular use of the xylophone in a particular theme to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Saint-Saëns uses a similar motif in the Fossils part of his Carnival of the Animals.

Information source: Wikipedia



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