Come All Hallows Eve, Death calls the dead to rise from their graves. While he plays his fiddle, the awakened spirits dance until the rooster crows at dawn.
French composer, Camille Saint-Saens, composed Danse Macabre for vocals and piano. The text was written by poet, Henri Cazalis and the premiere took place in 1872. Initial audiences were so disturbed by the piece (especially the eerie vocals) that Saint-Saens reworked it into a tone poem for orchestra.
English translation of the poem:
- “Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
- Striking a tomb with his heel,
- Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
- Zig, zig, zag, on his violin.
- The winter wind blows, and the night is dark;
- Moans are heard in the linden trees.
- White skeletons pass through the gloom,
- Running and leaping in their shrouds.
- Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking,
- You can hear the cracking of the bones of the dancers.
- A lustful couple sits on the moss
- So as to taste long lost delights.
- Zig zig, zig, Death continues
- The unending scraping on his instrument.
- A veil has fallen! The dancer is naked.
- Her partner grasps her amorously.
- The lady, it’s said, is a marchioness or baroness
- And her green gallant, a poor cartwright.
- Horror! Look how she gives herself to him,
- Like the rustic was a baron.
- Zig, zig, zig. What a saraband!
- They all hold hands and dance in circles.
- Zig, zig, zag. You can see in the crowd
- The king dancing among the peasants.
- But hist! All of a sudden, they leave the dance,
- They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.
- Oh what a beautiful night for the poor world!
- Long live death and equality!”
And an elegantly creepy, short silent film (starring Adolph Bolm and Ruth Page) set to the music of Danse Macabre: