What’s Spookier Than Saint-Sans’s ‘Danse Macabre’ – The Awl

ClassicalMusicHourwith?

Fran

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Hello,HappyThursday。

BothanoldWalgreensandanoldSportsAuthorityinmyneighborhoodaswellasanemptystorefrontnexttoaWalgreensnearmyworkhavetransformedintoHALLOWEENSUPERSTORES。

Halloweenisextremelyuponus,andthisweekIambringingyouthefirstoftwospookypiecesofmusic:CamilleSaint-Sa?

ns’sDansemacabreinGminor,Op?

40。

Charles-CamilleSaint-Sa?

ns(tothoseasking:yes,itisapowermovetohaveahyphenatedfirstandlastname)wasaFrenchcomposerinthelatterhalfofthenineteenthcentury。

AcontemporaryofDvo?

ák,Brahms,andTchaikovsky,Saint-Sa?

nswasconsideredadeeplytraditionalcomposer。

Hisworkisrootedmuchmoreintheclassicalandromanticmusicthatcamebeforehimandfarlessinimpressionismandthemodernclassicalmusicthattookoverthelatenineteenthandearlytwentiethcentury。

Infact,hewalkedoutofthepremiereofTheRiteOfSpringin1913(which,okay,infairness,thispremiereledtooneofthemostnotableclassicalmusicriotsinhistoryinwhichmanyaudiencemembersstormedoutifnotfullonfoughteachother)。

Eitherway,Ican’tstoplaughingatthis。

It’saveryFrenchthingtohavedone。

HeisoftenregardedasoneofthemostimportantFrenchcomposersofall-time,andhe’scertainlyoneofmyfavorite。

TherearealotofweirdandwildanecdotesaboutC-CS-S(thisistheonlytimeIwillrefertohimassuch),manyofwhichIwillsaveforfuture?

columns。

AsIstartedtoresearchDansemacabre,IfoundmyselfdownoneofthebetterWikipediarabbit?

holes:

Saint-Sa?

ns→Dansemacabre→DanceofDeath→TheDevilinclassicalmusic(!

)→?

Tritones

DidyouknowthattritonessignifytheDevilandSatanandevilspiritsinmusicandthateveryonejustusedto“knowthis”and“recognizethis”andifyouhearditinapieceyou’dbelike,“oh,right,theDevil”?

Youknowthisnow,sowhenyoulistentothestartofDanseMacabre,youtoowillbeabletosay,“oh,right,the?

Devil。



DanseMacabreisconsideredatonepoem,whichistosayittellsastoryorafablethroughthemusicitself。

Differentinstrumentsrepresentdifferentcharacters?

—?

theviolinistheDevil,theoboeisacrow,thexylophoneisrattlingbones。

DanseMacabreisbasedonanoldmedievalallegoryaboutthe“danceofdeath”whichwasessentiallya“dance”thateveryoneknewbecauseeveryonewasgoingtodieone?

day。

Forsomethingmeanttobesoaudiblyspooky,it’salsogenuinelyverycampy。

Imean,let’sbereal:anythingolderthanItFollowsfeelscampywhenitcomestohorror。

Imean,readthesourcetextforDanse?

Macabre:

Zig,zig,zig,eachoneisfrisking,

Youcanhearthecrackingofthebonesofthedancers。

Alustfulcouplesitsonthemoss

Soastotastelonglostdelights。

Zigzig,zig,Deathcontinues

Theunendingscrapingonhisinstrument。

Aveilhasfallen!

Thedancerisnaked。

Herpartnergraspsheramorously。

Omg!

Asapercussionist,I’vealwaysbeenparticularlydrawntopiecesthatusepercussionoutsideoftimpani。

It’snottosaytimpaniarebad?

—?

they’reactuallyextremelycoolandgood?

—?

butusingavarietyofpercussioninstrumentsisaverymodernthingtodo。

DanseMacabrehasawholebunchofpercussioninit。

Timpani,sure,butalsobassdrum,cymbals,triangle,andxylophone。

Agreatfact:thisisthefirstpieceofWesternclassicalmusictousethexylophone。

Ilovethat。

It’saverygooduseofthexylophone。

Thexylophoneisoneofthecoolestinstrumentsofalltime,secondonlytomaybethecellowhichisbothbigandgraceful(seealso?

me)。

Anyway,cuethispieceupasyouenteranyHALLOWEENSUPERSTORESandletthedevil’sdanceremindyouthatonedaywe’llallbejaunty,hornyskeletonsdancingtoSaint-Sa?

nsin?

Hell!

FranHoepfnerisawriterwhousedtobeamusician,butnotinanacousticguitarsense,moreinthethemovieWhiplashsense。

Askidsheragediscoveredthepopularmusicoftheearly’00s?

Franspent10–15hoursaweekinprivatelessonsforpianoorplayingtimpaniinseveralChicagolandyouthsymphonies。

Becauseofthat,shedidn’tdiscoverpopmusicuntil2008,andnowhermusiclibraryisalmostexclusivelyclassical。

Youshouldlistentomoreclassicalmusic,notforanyself-importantreason,butjustbecauseit’smoreaccessiblethanyouthinkitis。

Alsoit’svery?