Late last summer I got the piano music for Saint-Saens delicious Danse Macabre. I downloaded it for free on the Net. What an awesome free gift and what a monstrous monkey it became on my back! I figured out I would have it done and ready to share by Halloween. I was a stupid idiot. It is a monster piece to play and I underestimated it. It is now five months later and I'm even nervous to present it now.
The piece was originally written for orchestra. Often, orchestral pieces are transcribed for the piano because the piano is the one and only instrument that can emulate an orchestra. But nothing compares to the original, and the piano at best can just do it some justice.
Then along came Franz Liszt who wrote the best piano transcriptions of orchestral pieces. EVER. The only problem was, he expected the performer to have five hands, nineteen fingers on each hand and the metabolism of a humming bird. God, is his stuff hard to play.
I've done my best. I'm actually at an impasse with this music. There is still much work to do with it technically and musically.
I haven't made any improvements on it in the last month, even though I've still been playing and practicing on it. I learned many years ago that when that happens, you just set the music aside for a month or so and then come back to it. You will still play it like you played it before, but you will hear it with new ears, and you will know how to improve it musically and technically.
Since I've promised this monster to you folks for so long, I thought I'd better share it now before I take my vacation from it. It has been nearly an obsession for me. I thought I could get the better of Liszt by mastering it. I couldn't. Liszt won. Again. He always wins! Barstard!
When I was a boy, I used to listen to this on the radio (it was always played around Halloween), but because of Watchtower Guilt(tm) I felt I had to ask my Mother if I would get demons for listening to it. She said something like "it's ok to listen to, but only in moderation, and don't believe the stories about what it is about." Ok, fine, Mom.
This is a full eleven minutes of music, so for you folks who don't have that attention span, go find something that suits you. Some folks have said my music has been too short. Well, this ain't too short.
It is also what I call "Industrial Strength" music. To be honest, I've never actually heard a concert artist perform it (although I'm sure many have), so I'm just going by the music as I know it.
Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) is the author of this piece. He is most remembered for his symphonic poems like this one. He was an absolute treasure to we music lovers and to France. His music and the music of his contemporary, Claude Debussy, is as good as it gets for those (like me) who love that kind of music. Saint-Saens "La Valse" is something everyone who is in love or wants to love should get and listen to.
The story that inspired this music goes like this:
DANSE MACABRE by Saint-Saens.
The most popular of Saint-Saens' works, it was inspired by Henri Cazali's poem on the dance of the dead on Hallowe'en.
The music was first composed in the form of a song, and later re-written as a symphonic poem. At its first performance in 1875, it was too unconventional for the audience, but it gradually won such popularity that the composer adapted it for two pianos. Listz later rewrote the work for solo piano.
Saint-Saens employed discordant musical effects in order to conjure up the vision of the dance of the dead, including the use of the xylophone to represent the rattling of the skeletons.
The following is a free translation of the poem :
Moonbeams break fitfully through the ragged clouds. Twelve heavy strokes sound from the bell in the church tower. As the last stroke dies away, strange sounds are heard from the graveyard, and the light of the moon falls on a ghastly figure: it is Death, sitting on a tombstone, tuning his fiddle. Shrieks are heard from the graves around and the wind howls through the bare tree-tops.
The sinister notes of Death's mistuned violin call the dead forth from their graves, and clad in white shrouds, they flutter around in a demoniacal dance. The quiet of the churchyard is rent by hollow cries and horrible laughter. Wilder and wilder race the rattling skeletons round the figure of Death, as he beats time with his clacking skeleton foot.
Suddenly, as if seized by a terrible suspicion, they stop. In the icy wind, Death's notes cannot be heard. A tremor runs hrough the ranks of the dead. The grinning skulls are turned, as if listening, towards the pale moon.
There is a sad interlude as a couple, killed on their wedding night, dance out a tragic memory of their once happy times.
But Death's goading notes once more shatter the silence, and once again the dead hurl themselves into the dance, wilder than before. The howling wind joins in the ghastly choir, and moans in the bare linden trees.
Suddenly Death stops his playing. In the stillness that follows is heard the sound of a cock crowing. The dead scurry back to their graves, and the weird vision fades away in the light of dawn.
I present without further ado, the often-imperfect result of my long and arduous hours of sweat and love, The Danse Macabre: