The Carnival of the Animals

Harold Schoenberg, a renowned music critic and scholar, considered Saint-Saëns to be “the most remarkable child prodigy in history, and that includes Mozart”. Saint-Saëns wrote his first composition at 3½ years old. If you find this hard to believe, the manuscript is on display in the Paris Conservatory. At five, in a public concert, he accompanied a Beethoven violin sonata on the piano, and at 10, he offered at a recital to play any one of Beethoven’s piano sonatas – by memory!

And what is Saint-Saëns best remembered for today? The Carnival of the Animals, a piece written just for close friends in two days in 1886 which he would not allow to be published until after his death in 1921. Why? Because he feared that its lighthearted and humorous character would detract from his image as a serious composer. During his lifetime, he permitted it to be performed only in a private setting.

In 1950, the conductor Andre Kostelanetz came up with the inspired idea of adding verses to Saint-Saëns’s score, and the great American humorist Ogden Nash was his choice to be the poet. Each of Nash’s fourteen verses were designed to be read before Saint-Saëns’s corresponding movement.

In this concert, new verses by Jack Prelutsky will be used to supplement Saint-Saëns’ amusing music.