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Animals in Classical Music? It's Not Just for Kids!

There’s some great classical music not often played at adult concert series. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, The Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal guest conductor points to several under-performed masterworks that speak to everyone.

Stephane Deneve

Radio script:

Music: Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals

Susan Lewis:  "The march of the lion" begins Carnival of the Animals, a work Saint-Saens wrote in 1886 to entertain his friends, musically describing also hens, wild horses, elephants, and kangaroos. But the composer himself was concerned the piece could undermine his reputation as a serious artist – and  the work wasn’t published or publicly performed until after his death in 1921. 

Today, Carnival of the Animals - like Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf - is popular as a piece mostly for children’s concerts.

Stephane Deneve: The Carnival  of the Animals and Peter and the Wolf are really great masterworks that people never hear unless they have a child, but I think we are all grown-up kids. 

SL: Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor Stephane Deneve says there has always been a prejudice about music that appears light on its surface.

SD: I think depth and very intense meaning can be hidden behind this lightness and this humor. There’s a great sentence – humor is the politeness of despair.

Music: Poulenc’s Suite from Les Animaux Modeles

SL: Another such piece championed by Deneve is Poulenc’s 1941 suite from his ballet Les Animaux Modeles, based on classic French fables by Jean de La Fountaine.  The music, written during the Nazi occupation, is infused with a sense of defiance and hope.

Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about great works that musically describe animals and are typically relegated to children's concerts.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.