The most famous masterpiece by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, “Carnival of the Animals,” was not publicly performed during his lifetime. The suite was only played twice in small, intimate concerts. The musicians who were at those concerts, notably Frank Liszt, implored Saint-Saëns to release it. Saint-Saëns refused, fearful that the light-hearted nature of the piece would detract from the “serious” image of a composer. Only after his death would the world fall in love with the masterpiece that is “Carnival of the Animals.”
Ogden Nash, on the other hand, built his career off light-heartedness. At the time of his death, he was declared by the New York Times as the “country’s best-known producer of humorous poetry.” His only foray into serious work ended when he decided that he had better “laugh at myself before anyone laughed at me.”
So how did two artists with such distinct careers meet? Russian-born conductor and arranger Andre Kostelanetz asked Nash to write poetry for recitation in-between each movement. It’s not clear what connection Kostelanetz saw between Saint-Saëns and Nash; perhaps it was the lightheartedness of their works that lifted the careers of both artists, one who embraced it and the other who resisted it. Regardless, the version he put together has been the definitive version ever since, with the poems often included during performances of “Carnival of the Animals” – check out a version below featuring the narrative talents of Betty White, Audrey Hepburn, Charlton Heston, William Shatner and more!
On November 16 at 1:00 p.m, the Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings will be performing “Carnival of the Animals” with the recitation done by Rich Capparela, the iconic voice in the classical world.
Jacob Sanchez is an arts and culture writer based in Southern California. His work has been published in the “Inkslinger” and “River Voice” journals.