Tuesday, October 22, 2013

(The Other) Danse Macabre

Last Friday I shared Carrie Clickard's humorous death romp, Danse Macabre-- a pas de deux performed by a zombie ballerina and her mummy dance partner.  In keeping with our Halloween momentum, today's post is about the other, more traditional Danse Macabre.  According to legend, every Halloween at midnight, Death summons the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle.  The ghostly dance party continues until the rooster crows at dawn, when the skeletons must again return to their graves until next year.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, Op. 40, was originally written in 1872 as a song for voice and piano, based on the following (translated) text by the French poet Henri Cazalis:

          Zig, zig, zig, Death in 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.

In 1874, Saint-Saëns expanded and reworked the piece into the more familiar tone poem for orchestra.  I hope you enjoy this Halloween cartoon aired by PBS in 1980 which is set to the familiar score:


  1. Since I have linden trees outside my home, Michelle, I'll be wary at midnight on Halloween! I only vaguely know about this, so thank you for the intro, the words, & this funny cartoon!

    1. Yes, please do keep your wits about you, Linda! Best not to open your door to any late night trick-or-treaters.

  2. I love cartoons set to music! Poetic minds think alike: http://tabathayeatts.blogspot.com/2011/10/dancing-skeletons.html

  3. The delicious, spine-tingling, spooky chill .. in both the Cazalis composition and the video. If ever there was an instrument to summon the dead for a dance, it's the fiddle, with its plaintive, lonely, soul-stirring sound. I have a short story brewing in my mind ... thank you for making me aware of this delight, Michelle!