Sunday, October 10, 2010

Camille Saint-Saëns - Danse Macabre

Best Hallowe'en Song:

My favorite song for Hallowe'en is Charles Camille Saint-SaënsDanse Macabre, and the medieval story behind it is so interesting I thought I would inflict it upon you, dear lambs, for further Hallowe'en study
The Dance of Death (or Danse Macabre in French) was a late medieval allegory involving a personification of Death who summons an assortment of people (pope, king, duke, laborer, child, etc.) to dance with him to the grave, as a reminder to the audience that death comes to us all.  [Picture a very rotund, crabby Orson Wells quoting in a grumpy snarl: "Death comes to us all, yes, even to kings he comes." from A Man for All Seasons.  Best Orson Wells line ever.]  Now to modern people, who act as though they have a severe allergy to the inevitability of death, this sounds hideously morbid and depressed; they would probably imagine dung-covered peasants wearing hair-shirts living in mud huts rhythmically beating themselves on the head with planks of wood wailing about their End or something, but this is only because "modern" minds do not understand the medieval era (not to say the cast of Monty Python didn't know...terribly well-educated.  But watch the wretched Sean Bean movie Black Death - they took so much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail as deadly serious academic research).  People of the medieval period were not Neanderthal cave-men picking their rotting teeth with a stick whilst a swarm of cartoon flies buzzed around their heads waiting for them to drop dead from the plague.  We are talking about the period of Dante and Thomas Aquinas and the dawn of Renaissance art.  Charles Camille Saint-SaënsDanse Macabre is a brilliant musical translation of the allegory: beware of the inevitable end, avoid actions that would bring you shame, but party hard, my still-breathing friends.  There is a mad, joyful abandon in the music.  A very apt Hallowe'en song.

Wikipedia goes on somewhat pretentiously that the allegory "always had a subtle socio-critical element" to it, which I think is a ridiculous observation.  I get annoyed when people, in the middle of a perfectly rational discussion, slap a redundant, vapid, and inherently modern sociological phrase onto everything.  If by socio-critical, the writer meant critical of human frailty then yeah, sure.  The whole point of the Dance of the Dead being that NONE OF THAT MATTERS AT DEATH SO QUIT ACTING LIKE A DIVA ON A RAMPAGE!

Anyhoodle, as our Celtic ancestors advised, this is the best time of year to light a truck-load of stuff on fire, drink a bunch, and dance like mad to great music.

Here is a gorgeous version of the Dance Macabre.

5 comments:

Lyda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyda said...

Great Post! I thought that you would find this album interesting, if you haven't heard of it yet. It is by the Faint and the entire album is called "Danse Macabre." The best songs from that album are "Glass Danse" and "Agenda Suicide."
(Referring to you about drinking and dancing ;)
Enjoy! xo- LYDA

The militant working boy said...

What? Monty Python doesn't count as serious academic research?
Seriously though, it's songs like this that intrigue and entice us with fate and remind us not to take the temporary (or the unknown) too seriously.

Meghan McNally said...

Thanks for the tip, Lyda! It would be nice to have something other than Iron Maiden by way of a modern version.

And, the problem with Monty Python's admittedly broad, comprehensive awesomeness only arises when crazy screenwriters take the Flying Circus's sardonic JOKES as serious research. Argh! So conflicted!

Amber Rose said...

Just perfect.