Le Carnaval des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns.
Le Carnaval was composed in February 1886 while Saint-Saëns was vacationing in a small Austrian village. It was originally scored for a chamber group of flute, clarinet, two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, but is usually performed today with a full orchestra of strings, and with a glockenspiel substituting for the rare glass harmonica.
Saint-Saëns, apparently concerned that the piece was too frivolous and likely to harm his reputation as a serious composer, suppressed performances of it and only allowed one movement, Le Cygne, to be published in his lifetime. Only small private performances were given for close friends like Franz Liszt.
Saint-Saëns did, however, include a provision which allowed the suite to be published after his death, and it has since become one of his most popular works. It is a favorite of music teachers and young children, along with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
Full ensemble: The Finale opens on the same tremolo notes in the pianos as in the introduction, which are soon reinforced by the wind instruments, the harmonica and the xylophone. The strings build the tension with a few low notes, leading to glissandi by the piano, then a pause before the lively main melody is introduced. This movement is somewhat reminiscent of an American carnival from the middle of the twentieth century, with one piano always maintaining a bouncy eighth note rhythm. Although the melody is relatively simple, the supporting harmonies are ornamented in the style that is typical of Saint-Saëns’ compositions for piano; dazzling scales, glissandi and trills. Many of the previous movements are quoted here from the introduction, the asses, hens, and kangaroos. The work ends with a strong group of C major chords.