Danse Macabre (Saint-Saëns)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Danse Macabre (first performed in 1874) 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 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.

When Danse Macabre first premiered, it was not received well. Audiences were quite unsettled by the disturbing, yet innovative, sounds that Saint-Saëns elicited. Shortly after the premiere, it was transcribed into a piano arrangement by Franz Liszt, a good friend of Saint-Saëns, who recognized the genius of Danse Macabre and greeted it with much enthusiasm. It was again later transcribed into a popular piano arrangement by virtuoso pianist Vladimir Horowitz.

Danse Macabre has been used as background music in horror television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in the mostly dialogue-free "Hush"), and was used as the haunting theme tune to the British series Jonathan Creek. It is also heard in a key scene in Jean Renoir's 1939 film The Rules of the Game. The Dutch amusement park Efteling uses it as the background theme for their haunted house ride. It is used in Mickey Mouse Works for the Silly Symphony's version of Hansel and Gretel, starring Mickey and Minnie. It has also been used in the French film Un long dimanche de fiançailles (known in English as A Very Long Engagement) starring Audrey Tautou, and in the American film Tombstone accompanying a stage production of the story of Faust. It is also used in Shrek the Third during the scene where Prince Charming is attempting to kill Shrek. It has also appeared in the anime Princess Tutu, in AKT 24 as the background music for most part of the episode. A short piece of Danse Macabre was played on the Jimmy Neutron episode The League of Villains, where the junkman was dancing with Beautiful Gorgeous.

The piece opens with a harp playing a single note,and 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.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Danse Macabre (Saint-Saëns)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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