The Dancing Dead

dancing_skeletons

“Danse macabre” really gets things moving.

The dead rising from their graves and making merry on Halloween night: That’s the story told by Danse macabre, an instrumental piece written by the 19th century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

The work is based on an old French superstition in which Death appears at midnight on Halloween and plays his fiddle, calling forth the dead to dance to his tune. As you listen to the piece, you’ll have no trouble envisioning a throng of grinning skeletons reveling through the cemetery as they celebrate their annual night of freedom from the grave.

Near the end of the piece, a rooster crows (an oboe, I think) to signal the coming dawn. The skeletons recoil in fright and glumly slink back to their tombs for another year.

My elementary school music teacher introduced me to Danse macabre waaay back when I was a little kid and I’ll always remember hearing it that first time. Every October I put it back into heavy rotation on my iPod and let the dead dance through my mind again and again.

The tune is about seven minutes long and is available on iTunes. You can also sample it with various video accompaniments on YouTube.

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