Danse Macabre

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:

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OOOooo, lovely! I never knew there was a poem to go with the music. I love Danse Macabre, it’s one of my favorite pieces of music (surprise, surprise!) Since I’m at home on my dial-up connection I’ll have to wait until tomorrow at work to check out the little movie. I wonder if there are any recordings of the vocal part of DM? I would love to hear it sung.

  2. I always found the concept interesting, an analogy to life itself and the death that awaits us all.

  3. I’m choreographing a high school’s one act, and their big rival is actually performing Danse Macabre at the competition. I’m not sure what to expect of high schoolers doing this, but I’ll know Tuesday!

  4. Hey DD,

    heh heh. Yes, I figured you also loved that piece. 🙂

    Speaking of the vocals, they played it on allclassical.org on Saturday night. (well, night for me). I tried to find it online to no avail. It was really cool if you can track it down.

  5. Heya Ralfast,

    I see it in a similar way. And I love the last line of the poem: “Long live death and equality”. 🙂

  6. Hey Colby,

    Good luck at the contest! Let us know how it goes. 🙂

  7. I can check back through their playlist, and probably find it (hopefully with a ‘buy now’ link button).

  8. Your post reminds of that song “Living Dead Girl”.

    Danse Macabre started out as a form of art during the 14th century right after The Black Death ended. Before the Bubonic Plague hit Europe when people died, especially royalty, they would have their likeness carved on their sarcophagus at the prime of their life. After the plague sarcophagii (sp?) would be split in half with one side being at the prime of their life and the other half being shown all decomposed and eaten by worms.

    Just thought I would share that tidbit with you.

  9. DD,

    Please let me know if you do find it.

  10. Hi Lyra,

    Thank you so much for that info!

    Living Dead Girl, is a great song, btw.

    The music of Danse Macabre also reminds me of the end of The Seventh Seal.

  11. This is like the classical version of Thriller. 😀

  12. Hi Marian,

    Heh. I hadn’t thought of that. 🙂

  13. Wow–I hadn’t heard what Lyra mentioned. Now I have to do more research! Fascinating.

    And I love the Thriller concept 🙂 🙂 Love seeing the dance, too!

  14. Ooooh. Delicious post for this time of year. Figures, I’d come across it late. Seems like with the time change I’d be closer to becoming organized, not further away. But, anyway, delicious and delightful.

  15. Hiya Amy!

    Organized…what does that word mean? 😉

    And you’re never too late for a macabre post. 🙂

  16. […] Source, along with an even earlier (1922) video: GypsyScarlett’s Weblog […]

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