About the Carnival of the Animals

“The Carnival of the Animals” is an orchestral suite, by the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. A suite is simply a collection of small pieces of music.

Camille Saint-Saëns called this composition a “zoological fantasy”. If you listen carefully, you can hear the footsteps of animals, the sounds they make, and many other things. There are also some references to other compositions or composers, because Saint-Saëns enjoyed satire…

Les instruments

This composition requires: 2 pianos, 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 double bass, 1 flute, 1 clarinet, 1 harmonica (a celesta is often used instead), and 1 xylophone. The instruments used are different for each movement, and it is only for the finale (no. 14) that they all play at once.

There are 14 movements, and almost all of them represent an animal or a group of animals. Here are the titles, as well as the instruments for each movement:

I. / 1.Introduction and Royal March of the Lion)String quintet and two pianos
II. / 2.Hens and RoostersTwo pianos, two violins, a viola, a clarinetD
III. / 3.Wild Donkeys Swift AnimalsTwo pianos
IV. / 4.TortoisesString quintet, one piano
V. / 5.The ElephantPiano, double bass
VI. / 6.KangaroosTwo pianos
VII. / 7.AquariumFlute, two pianos, strings, glass harmonica
VIII. / 8.Characters with Long EarsTwo violins
IX. / 9.The Cuckoo in the Depths of the WoodsTwo pianos, a clarinet
X. / 10.AviaryFlute, two pianos, string quintet
XI. / 11.PianistsTwo pianos, string quintet
XII. / 12.FossilsString quintet, two pianos, clarinet and xylophone
XIII. / 13.The SwanCello (solo), two pianos
XIV. / 14.FinaleComplete ensemble

Did you know…

Camille Saint-Saëns composed “The Carnival of the Animals” in 1886, and the first performance was given privately in 1887. Saint-Saëns did not consider the work to be a “serious” composition, and he insisted that it not be published until after his death.

There is one exception: he allowed « le Cygne » (The Swan, No. 13) to be published.

This is perhaps the best-known work by Saint-Saëns today!

Let’s listen!