Camille Saint-Saëns, “Danse Macabre – Symphonic Poem Op.40”

According to legend, “Death” appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death calls forth the dead from their graves to dance their dance of death for him while he plays his fiddle represented by a solo violin with its E-string tuned to an E-flat in an example of scordatura tuning. His skeletons dance for him until the rooster crows at dawn, when they must return to their graves until the next year.

The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times which is accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the E flat and A chords also known as a tritone or the “Devil’s chord”, and the solo violin’s E string is tuned a half step lower to create this effect played by a solo violinist, which represents death. After which the main theme is heard on a solo flute and is followed by a descending scale on the solo violin which is accompanied by soft chords from the string section, particularly the lower instruments of the string section, followed by the full orchestra who then joins in on the descending scale. The main theme and the scale is then heard throughout the various sections of the orchestra until it breaks to the solo violin and the harp playing the scale. The piece becomes more energetic and climaxes with the full orchestra playing very strong dynamics. Towards the end of the piece, there is another violin solo, now in modulation, which is then joined by the rest of the orchestra. The final section represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves.

The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Saint-Saëns uses a similar motif in the Fossils movement of The Carnival of the Animals.

I’m always happy when the Wikipedia pages for certain pieces of music are well-written and informative, I end up with a whole other level of appreciation for it. The Danse Macabre is awesome enough on its own, but the extra little facts are really worth reading.

The clock strikes midnight, so you know what that means. Time for the dead to dance once more.

Andrei Tarkovsky & Margarita Terekhova on the set of The Mirror (1975, dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)

mirror

 

“It is obvious that art cannot teach anyone anything, since in four thousand years humanity has learnt nothing at all.

We should long ago have become angels had we been capable of paying attention to the experience of art, and allowing ourselves to be changed in accordance with the ideals it expresses…It’s ridiculous to imagine that people can be taught to be good; any more than they can learn how to be faithful wives by following the ‘positive’ example of Pushkin’s Tatiana Larina. Art can only give food—a jolt—the occasion—for psychical experience.”

-Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema

Anthony Perkins

aids

“I chose not to go public about this because, to misquote Casablanca, ‘I’m not too much at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of one old actor don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world.’

There are many who believe that this disease is God’s vengeance, but I believe it was sent to teach people how to love and understand and have compassion for each other. I have learned more about love, selflessness and human understanding from the people I have met in this great adventure in the world of AIDS than I ever did in the cutthroat, competitive world in which I spent my life.”

-Anthony Perkins, in a statement released after his death from AIDS in 1992

Different From the Others

Different From the Others

Different From the Others (1919, dir. Richard Oswald)

Different From the Others, initially released in Germany in 1919, may be the first feature-length film to address homosexuality.The silent film stars Conrad Veidt as Paul Korner, a renowned concert pianist & closeted homosexual who falls in love with his student (Fritz Schultz). Their secret romance is discovered by a blackmailer who threatens to expose Korner as a gay man, which in 1920’s Germany meant public disgrace & possible incarceration. The story ends tragically with Korner being shunned by society & driven to suicide.

Different From the Others had a specific gay rights law reform agenda – director Richard Oswald & co-screenwriter Magnus Hirschfeld, a prominent sexologist/gay rights activist, made the film as a response to Germany’s Paragraph 175, a law which made homosexual acts between men a crime (and which also had the effect of making gays vulnerable to blackmail).

Different From the Others was banned shortly after its release and prints of the film were among the “decadent” artworks burned by the Nazis after they came to power in the 1930s. As a result, only fragments of the film remain available for viewing.