About the Carnival of the Animals music

Carnival of the Animals is an orchestral suite of pieces written about animals, intended as a musical joke for Shrove Tuesday. This is the day Carnival is celebrated in Paris (like Mardi Gras in New Orleans), as the last big party before Lent, when the party-goers dressed in elaborate costumes, animal masks, outlandish hats and more.

Mardi Gras carnival

This work is an excellent example of program music, or music written to convey an idea, an image, or a character. Program music is the opposite of absolute or pure music, where the composer has no descriptive intent or specific meaning to convey in his music. In Carnival of the Animals, St.-Saëns brings alive the character, movement, and sounds of the animals with such wit and clarity that this work has become one of the greatest of children’s classics.

Fun fact: St.-Saëns never allowed this composition to be published during his lifetime, though he shared it with his friends and students in private performances.