In these videos, pianists Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck join conductor Michael Tilson Thomas to present a musical tour of the animal world: Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. Watch it all the way through!
What to do
- Download our Activity Guide
- Visit YouTube to watch and listen to Part 1
- Visit YouTube to watch and listen to Part 2
- Use our suggested questions and activities to engage with the music
What to consider while you're watching
Just like Peter & the Wolf, Carnival of the Animals uses the orchestra to portray different animals. But Saint-Saëns does this in a different way than Prokofiev.
Unlike Peter & the Wolf, the instruments in Carnival of the Animals don’t always play the same animals. But some of the animals do have certain instruments associated with them. Which instruments play each of the following animals?
- the elephant
- the cuckoo bird
- the birds in the aviary
- dinosaur bones
- the swan
What other differences can you think of between Peter & the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals? Do they both have stories? How are they different in their tone? Do you think both are serious, or is one supposed to be funnier and one more serious?
A parody is when a piece of music, literature, film, or other artform imitates another work in order to make fun of it or to make an interesting (and often funny) point using how we feel about the original artwork. Carnival of the Animals has quite a few parody elements. How many can you find?
“Turtles” uses a melody from Orpheus in the Underworld. This melody is normally played as fast as possible, but because these are turtles, we get to hear it reaalllllllllly slow here! (here’s the original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZxUJXqbxYs)
“Fossils” imitates one of Saint-Saëns’ most popular compositions— the Danse macabre, which is about dancing skeletons at Halloween! (take a listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71fZhMXlGT4)
“Pianists” teases young pianists who are learning to play their scales, treating them like they’re actually silly animals in a zoo.
Now it’s your turn!
In 1905, Mikhail Fokine created one of the most famous dances of all time when he used the music from “The Swan” to choreograph a short ballet for the famous dancer Anna Pavlova. (We actually have a film of her dancing it! It’s a really old film, so the speed is weird and the film is grainy, but Pavlova’s dancing is beautiful, and it’s definitely worth a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkFSBkl9mmo Then watch a modern performance of it with better video and audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T2UeKKac-s)
How does Fokine use movements to imitate a swan? What differences do you see in how these two dancers interpret the dance?
- Pick one of the animals from Carnival of the Animals.
- Think about how they move and what their personality is like. Then, make up a story to the music, and create a dance that tells your story!
- You can perform the dance yourself, or you can create a paper puppet or use a stuffed animal or other toy.
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