Monday, October 17, 2016

MUSIC - "Carnival of the Animals"

"How a composer's joke melodies became his unexpected legacy" PBS NewsHour 10/11/2016


SUMMARY:  Composer Camille Saint-Saëns would have celebrated his 181st birthday on Sunday.  During his lifetime, he was one of the world's most famous composers.  Today he is best known for his “Carnival of the Animals,” a legacy he would have found hard to swallow; Saint-Saëns wrote the pieces as a joke for a Mardi Gras party.  Composer and musician Rob Kapilow joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss.

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Rob Kapilow, welcome.

ROB KAPILOW, Composer:  Thanks for having me.

JEFFREY BROWN:  So, today, we're marking the birthday of Camille Saint-Saëns.  This is a story of a great composer who didn't quite get the legacy that he wanted.

ROB KAPILOW:  During his lifetime, I mean, he was a famous composer, one of the most famous composers in the world, writing serious operas, serious symphonies.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Tell us a little bit about him, for those who don't know.

ROB KAPILOW:  Well, you know, he was also one of the world's greatest musical prodigies.  In fact, many people think he was even more of a prodigy than Mozart or Mendelssohn.

He started piano at two-and-a-half.  He wrote his first piece at four-and-a-half, made a public debut at 10, in which not only did he play two concertos and write his own cadenza, but, for an encore, he offered to play any Beethoven sonata from memory that the audience wanted.  That's 32 sonatas at the age of 10, one of the great musical proteges, utterly famous, yet then, for a joke, he writes this piece that literally became his legacy.

JEFFREY BROWN:  So, “Carnival of the Animals,” written for a friend, becomes this famous piece.  Tell us about it.

ROB KAPILOW:  Yes, it was a little party piece, and, in it, he took 14 animals in this grand zoological fantasy, is what he called it.

And each movement turns an animal somehow into music.  And the simplest way is to take the sound of the actual animal, and, in the first movement, that's what happens.  A lion's roar is turned into music.

But, sometimes, for example, in “Hemiones,” which is a wild Tibetan donkey famous for running at blinding speed up and down rough mountains, he turns the idea of the animal into music, and turns that into two pianists running up and down the keyboard at blinding speed in unison.

The Carnival Of Animals (27:12)

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