Why are pianists included in The Carnival of the Animals?

  • In Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals*, the 11th section is entitled Pianists.

    This may sound like a silly question, but why are pianists included as part of animals?

    *(video with audio and sheet music can be found here)

    Or, just because the composer wanted to :-)

  • Carnival was intended to be a whimsical and satirical piece (Saint-Saëns didn't want it published in his lifetime because he thought it was silly). I conjecture that including pianists is his way of poking fun at pianists for always practicing and being obsessed with techniques, like mere chattering animals rather than humans with a capacity to interpret and imbue pieces with more than just technique.

    Poet Ogden Nash probably said it best:

    Some claim that pianists are human,
    Heh, and quote the case of Mr. Truman.
    Saint Saens on the other hand,
    Considered them a scurvy band,
    A blight they are he said, and simian,
    Instead of normal men and wimian.

  • Movement 11 doesn't just portray pianists. It portrays beginning pianists playing elementary scales and thirds, badly (the score explicitly says to include errors in execution). So the image is of an unwilling pupil sitting at the piano in their parent's parlor, grudgingly grinding through their daily practice before being allowed outside, rather than a masterful virtuoso holding an audience in his spell. This is much closer to the idea of a "dumb brute" than pianists in general.

  • It actually represents piano students practicing their scales. The whole piece is meant to be humorous (at least according to the composer.) Perhaps this movement is just some 19th Century French humor.

    19th century? Pretty much all of the 21st-century kids I know are hilariously amused by playing at being animals.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM