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Study Guide | Theater

Carnival of the Animals

Composer

Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns was a French composer, organist, conductor, and pianist from the Romantic Period. He was born in Paris in 1835. Just three months after he was born, his father died, leaving his mother and aunt to raise him. Like Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns was a child musical prodigy.

At three years old, his family discovered that he had perfect pitch and could pick out tunes on the piano. His aunt began teaching him piano basics, and at the age of seven he began formal piano training. When he was 10 years old, he made his public debut and offered to play any one of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas from memory.

At the age of 13, Saint-Saëns was admitted to the Paris Conservatory, France's most important music academy, where he studied organ and composition. While at the conservatory, he won a number of awards for his playing, and composed his first symphonies and piano concertos.

Saint-Saëns’ composition style was considered conservative, and for the most part followed classical music traditions. This made him stand apart from the other well-known composers of his time, like Claude Debussy, Ravel, and Richard Wagner, who were experimenting with innovative compositional styles. In addition to music, Saint-Saëns was interested in many subjects, including math, astrology, and poetry. He published a collection of poetry called Familiar Rhythms later in his life.

His best-known works include Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863), Second Piano Concerto (1868), First Cello Concerto (1872), Danse macabre (1874), the opera Samson and Delilah (1877), Third Violin Concerto (1880), Third ("Organ") Symphony (1886), and The Carnival of the Animals (1887).

Carnival of the Animals
Camille Saint-Saëns composed The Carnival of the Animals in 1868. It is a suite of 14 movements. It was originally composed for a chamber group of 11 instruments: flute/piccolo, clarinet, two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass. However today it is often performed by a full orchestra of strings and a glockenspiel (in place of the glass harmonica).

The Carnival of the Animals is considered to be one of Saint-Saëns’ most popular works. Most of the 14 movements are dedicated to a specific animal. In the composition, Saint-Saëns parodies many famous composers, such as Offenbach (“Can-Can” from the operetta Orpheus in the Underworld), Berlioz (“Dance des Sylphes” from The Damnation of Faust), and even himself (Danse macabre). Because Saint-Saëns was afraid that people wouldn’t consider him a serious composer if they heard The Carnival of the Animals, he stipulated in his will that it not be published until after his death. He did, however, allow the 13th movement (“The Swan”) to be published during his lifetime.

**See the Enrichment Activities section of this guide for a vocabulary activity related to the words in bold.

The Carnival of the Animals Movements

I. Introduction et marche royale du lion (Introduction and Royal March of the Lion)
II. Poules et coqs (Hens and Roosters)
III. Hémiones (animaux véloces) (Wild Asses: Swift Animals)
IV. Tortues (Tortoises)
V. L’éléphant (The Elephant)
VI. Kangourous (Kangaroos)
VII. Aquarium
VIII. Personnages à longues oreilles (Personages with Long Ears)
IX. Le coucou au fond des bois (The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods)
X. Volière (Aviary)
XI. Pianistes (Pianists)
XII. Fossiles (Fossils)
XIII. Le cygne (The Swan)
XIV. Final (Finale)

MUSIC

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The Carnival of the Animals: Movements 1—7
 
 
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The Carnival of the Animals: Movements 8—13
 
 
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The Carnival of the Animals: Movement 14
 
 
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Offenbach: “Can-Can”
 
 
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Berlioz: “Dance des Sylphes”
 
 
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“Danse Macabre”
 
 
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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Discussion questions can be found in the Enrichment Activities section. These allow for a deeper exploration of the performance after your visit. In addition, many of the discussion questions can be used in debate activities or essay writing assignments.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND STUDENTS

The Carnival of the Animals downloadable coloring book

Get to know the composer

Sea World/Busch Gardens Animal Sounds Library