Hyperion Records

Danse macabre
This is another Cazalis (or Jean Lahor) setting which dates from 1873. Although the song is not well known, the tune is familiar because it was the basis of Saint-Saëns’ tone poem of the same name written in 1874. And we also hear a quotation from it in the Fossils section of Le Carnaval des animaux/i>, a delightful instance of wry self-quotation. No one could claim that this was a great mélodie, but it is certainly amusing. Any song which contains the words ‘Zig et zig et zag’ and the conspiratorial ‘Mais psit!’ suggests a deliberate, indeed a flagrant, lapse of taste as the composer lets his hair down in a manner which our times could only describe as ‘camp’. From the very first strident tritones (the intervalus diabolus) twanging in the piano we are in for a Disneyland ride through the Haunted House (apart, that is, from the unacceptable-to-Disney descriptions of copulation, where the class barrier is forgotten between cartwright and marchioness—Lady Chatterley’s Lover encapsulated in a few bars of song). All this is great fun for the audience in a recital programme. For the performers there are problems: with diction because of the speed of the words (particularly for a non-French singer), and with the challenging octaves in the piano part (particularly for a pianist with less than Saint-Saëns’ own dazzling virtuosity).

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997

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