This Sunday we have Yo-Yo Ma playing The Swan, from Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals.
Yo-Yo Ma is accompanied by Kathryn Stott on the piano. I have chosen this as readers have mentioned Saint-Saëns; The Swan is the most famous piece from the set.
The Swan is often used in a solo ballet, The Dying Swan, made famous by the great ballerina Anna Pavlova. Here is a vintage film of her perfomance
and here is a superb modern version of this melancholy piece.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) had Mozartian potential that never quite developed into Mozart. Born in Paris, by the age of two Saint-Saëns could read and write and was picking out melodies on the piano. Shortly after his third birthday he began composing and by the age of five had given his first piano recital. At seven he was reading Latin and studying botany and at ten he offered to play any of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas from memory. However, it is said that because music came to him so naturally it extinguished the spark of originality and he never became a truly brilliant composer.
Saint-Saëns wrote his Carnaval des Animaux in 1886 as an amusement. He prohibited public performances during his lifetime in case it detracted from his reputation. He relented only for The Swan, published in 1887. Without a doubt the singing cello melody is the most beautiful of the 14 pieces making up the suite.