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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Music Fit For Halloween

(If you must have politics, please scroll down)

Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns and one of my favorite pieces of music:

According to YouTube:
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.
[from Wikipedia]

Artwork:Remedios Varo,"Les Feuilles Mortes".
Played by:National Philharmonic Orchestra,
conductor:Leopold Stokowski.
Perhaps FreeThinke will add some of his musical expertise in the comments section.

Unrelated to the music in this blog post: one of my previous Halloween posts (Lizzie Borden).

And, now, for something a bit more cheerful: Spooky party brings in cash for headstones [Congressional Cemetery]. Among those buried in Congressional Cemetery are John Philip Souza,  Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, Dolley Madison, and 1880's D.C. madame Mary Ann Hall.


  1. Lol had that song a long , long time ago during music class at school. :)

    PS: Google 'one account' doesn't allow me signing in in Chrome.

  2. An old favorite, indeed! Making Merry with Menacing Images. Danse Macabre like so many works of Camille Saint-Saens was written not so much appeal to our deepest emotions, or to strike fear into our hearts, but simply to entertain and amuse in a way that agreeably stimulates the imagination.

    A grotesque version of the waltz, Danse Macabre is really an elegant satire on all things creepy, spooky and supernatural.

    Like Halloween, itself, which everyone enjoys, and no one but the dullest old sobersides and certain self-absorbed religious fanatics takes seriously, Danse Macabre, ingenious and memorable though it be, was really created just for fun.

    In that regard it is closely related to The Mephisto Waltz of Franz Liszt -- a brilliant showpiece for virtuoso pianists that portrays the terrible seductive power of Satan so skillfully it becomes downright erotic when played by a master. Satan always find ways to make the journey to Perdition intoxicating and irresistible.

    Valse Triste, an intensely beautiful work by Jan Sibelius, is also dark, eerie, and full of foreboding, but it touches the heart more deeply than either the Liszt or Saint Saens -- especially under the baton of Herbert Von Karajan who plumbs extraordinary depths with his marvellous interpretation.


    Come visit the ghosts at my place before the day is out. Miss Dickinson does with words things very similar to what Sibelius does with harmony and melody.

  3. I'd rather watch horror movies... do you hate me?

    1. Nope! You're more to be pitied than despised. ;-)


  4. I expected Night on Bald Mountain, although I think it is properly Night on Bare Mountain.

    1. Nude Peak

      Naked Promontory

      Hairless Head Hill

      Depilated Acclivity

      Brynner's Head

    2. Bare Mountain is properly spelled Bear Mountain. It is located on the Hudson River in New York State just north of The City, and has both a park and a bridge named after it.

      Moussorgsky never knew anything about Bear Mountain, poor fellow!

  5. A great Dance Macabre

    Bergman's cinematographer talked him into filming the scene which was rather rushed.

  6. I recognize the music but didn't know the background.

    Our church is having a Hallow-Him celebration for the community. I'm not sure what type music they have planned. I might suggest this. Thousands are served food, chili, soup, all the sides, individual candy bags for everybody, games, cake walks, ... It was planned outside, but will be moved into the Fair Grounds building since we have severe weather headed our way. The church is also doing a community "praise" service, all music, Contemporary Christian, on Saturday and Sunday nights this week. Hubby plays the Bass Guitar and they really sound great.

    Right Truth

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. The reading aloud by a skilled actor of The Masque of the Red Death would be singularly appropriate for adults this Halloween. Poe and Saint-Saens could go very well together. They were nineteenth century figures and both reveled in theatrical morbidity. Pip's first encounter with Abel Magwitch -- and later with Miss Havisham would also work marvelously.

    I think we should save Marley's ghost for Christmas, however.

    If you like "scary," in the GOthic mode, try some of the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, M. R. James, Oliver Onions and Edith Wharton.


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