Camille Saint-Saens, the famous 19th-century French composer, was usually quite serious about his music. However, he proved he had a sense of humor when he wrote "Carnival of the Animals." Saint-Saens was a teacher in a music school when he decided to play a joke on his students - a musical joke, of course. A series of 13 musical vignettes was the result.
The book Carnival of the Animals includes a full-length CD as well as a commentary. Barrie Carson Turner's commentary begins with a solid explanation of the orchestral instruments selected by Saint-Saens to represent the various animals (including a couple of surprises) in his carnival. Sue Williams's illustrations not only display each of the instruments but each of the animals as well, enabling a visual correlation with the music and text. Stringed instruments, woodwinds, and finally percussion instruments are carefully described. A simple, nontechnical explanation is given, describing how each instrument is played; this would be helpful for teaching purposes and satisfying curious minds.
The carnival opens with a majestic march for the king of beasts and continues with lighter-hearted, sometimes comical, music for each of the other animals, before the elegant swan glides gracefully into the distance. The finale calls all the animals back for an exciting grand parade.
Young children, preschool through approximately age 10, will enjoy listening to the CD recorded by EMI Records Ltd., even without benefit of the text. For maximum enjoyment and pleasure, reading the text before listening to the corresponding musical selection is recommended. The brevity of each selection, the colorful illustrations, and the simple yet adequate commentary all combine to make Carnival of the Animals a good choice for children.
"Carnival of the Animals" may have been written as a joke for music students, but people have enjoyed this interesting composition so much that it is arguably the best loved and most famous of all the pieces written by Camille Saint-Saens. ¶
Cynthia B. Drennan holds a master's in musicology and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction; she instructed children on the marvels of music for many years.