"The Carnival of the Animals" is a musical suite of
fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer
It 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/piccolo,
clarinet (B flat and C), 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. The term for this rare 11-piece
musical ensemble is a "hendectet" or an "undectet."
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. It
was first performed on 26 February 1922, 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. In fact, it is
very common to see any combination of these three works
together on modern CD recordings.
Movemnent 7 "Aquarium" was originally written for
strings (without double-bass), two pianos, flute, and
glass harmonica: This is one of the more musically rich
movements. The melody is played by the flute, backed by
the strings, on top of tumultuous, glissando-like runs
in the piano. The first piano plays a descending
ten-on-one ostinato, in the style of the second of
Chopin's études, while the second plays a six-on-one.
These figures, plus the occasional glissando from the
glass harmonica — often played on celesta or
glockenspiel—are evocative of a peaceful, dimly-lit
I created this arrangement for Strings (Violins, Violas
& Cellos) and Concert (Pedal) Harp.