Danse Macabre

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In today’s musical note I want to share with you Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”) by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

In this symphonic poem (music that literally tells a story) Death summons the dead from their graves to dance at midnight on Halloween.  To signify midnight, this piece starts with twelve repeated notes from the harp.  A solo violin portrays Death as it plays for the dead to dance for him (or her).

I doubt Disney will be scaring little kids by making another Fantasia based on this story, but the music is so vivid with images, you don’t need Disney’s animators.  Just close your eyes and you’ll see a dark red sky, the Devil (Death) playing violin, and dancing skeletons.

Here are several performances.  (It has been transcribed to various instruments; the piano transcription is by Franz Liszt.)

  • Orchestral version

  • Two pianos by the sisters Gromoglasova

  • One piano

  • Electric guitars

  • Violin and piano

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  • Kevin J Beck says:

    The one thing I remember most about this piece is that it was my elementary-school introduction to classical music. My school music teacher liked to play this song several times a week during class time. I still remember her telling us about the way the different sections of the orchestra interacted throughout this song, and what ghoulish parts they represented.

    Thanks for the memories!

  • Gillan Kennedy says:

    I remember this! The TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer used this throughout an episode called “Hush” where creepy tuxedoed gentlemen stole the town’s voices and then their souls. I always thought the music was great. (I was much younger then)

  • George Urban says:

    I love all those arrangements and the guitars the most.

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