One of the most mysterious animal habitats on earth is under the water. Saint-Saëns uses many instruments in this piece to capture the sounds of an underwater environment. Notice that the piano is very good at making rippling water sounds. Also notice at the end of the video there is a woman playing a small keyboard. This is a very special instrument called a celeste. You may recognize its sound from other famous pieces like Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” or Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter. Often when composers are trying to describe something magical or mysterious in their music, they use this instrument. Saint-Saëns originally wrote this part for the glass harmonica, which sounds very similar.
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The swan as often been considered one of the most beautiful animals. There are many fairy tales about its beauty and grace. Because of this, Saint-Saëns chose to use beautiful legato (smooth) sounds on the cello to describe this elegant bird. Picture a beautiful swan gliding on top of the water as you listen. Which instrument do you think represents the water?
We have now learned that high-pitched instruments such as violins and flutes are great at imitating high-pitched animal sounds. What kind of instrument do you think would be good at imitating very large animals like elephants? Here, Saint-Saëns chose to use the double bass, the lowest and biggest instrument to imitate the sounds of one of the world’s largest animals. What do you think the elephant is doing during this music? Do you think this music has a serious mood?
Since October is Halloween month, it makes sense to start with something a little bit spooky. Fossils may not be living animals, but they are the remains of ones who lived long ago. Can you tell which instrument Saint-Saëns used to make it sound like skeletons are dancing in this music? Also, listen for a familiar tune that you may recognize somewhere in the middle of the video. (Use worksheet 1 & worksheet 2)
Moving on to living animals, this piece is all about birds! Saint-Saëns mainly uses the flute to imitate bird calls in this piece but the other instruments are helping too. Notice how the violins move their bows very quickly. This motion is called tremolo and here it is meant to sound like fluttering bird wings. Listen carefully and see if you can also hear the piano making bird sounds.
Featured Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns
Welcome to our new Lifelong Listening Center!
We are kicking off October by celebrating the 182nd birthday of French composer Camille Saint-Saëns and one of his most famous works The Carnival of the Animals. We will explore pieces from this work and discover how a master composer can use different types of sound to paint a picture in your imagination.