Saint-Saëns's Saltarelle

On our upcoming Restrospective Concert, ECMC will sing Saltarelle by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). Saltarelle is a musical setting of a poem by Émile Deschamps for men’s chorus.  The French word, saltarellecomes from the Italian saltarello, which is a traditional Italian dance, usually in a fast triple meter.  Saltarello derives from the Italian verb saltare, which means to jump or to skip.

Saltarelle is a call to the people of Romagna to leave the mountains and plains and to come dance and sing.  Here is a performance by the Empire City Men’s Chorus from our 2016 Free & Easy Concert with the text translation below.


Camille Saint-Saëns was born in 1835, eight years after Beethoven’s death.  In 1835, while Andrew Jackson was president, the United States government paid off its debt. 1835 was the last and only year that the United States remained debt-free , but that's another story...

Saint-Saëns’s disciplined adherence to the classical form, long the object of critical scorn, became a beacon for later composers struggling to cope with the stylistic freedom that had developed prior to the World War I.  While Beethoven needed little harmonic invention beyond secondary dominants to serve his needs, within Saint-Saëns's lifetime, Stravinsky, Schöenberg, and Prokofiev were bombarding the public with Le Sacré du PrintempsPierrot Lunaire, and the Scythian Suite respectively.


While Saint-Saëns’s compositions were not especially innovative, his music could be very evocative.  Saint-Saëns is perhaps best known for Carnival of Animals, a work that, except for The Swan, he did not want performed in public. To the right, you will find a performance of the ballet the Dying Swan, choreographed by Michel Fokine and danced by Svetlana Zakharova.


Another famous work is Danse Macabre, which employs scordatura, the deliberate mistuning of the strings of the solo violin.  In this case, the solo violin lowers the pitch of the E string to E flat so that the open strings A and E flat sound a tritone (a/k/a the devil’s interval).


Come, children of the Romagne,
All singing gay refrains,
Leave the plains and the mountains,
To dance to the beat of the tambourines!

Rome, the holy city, gives them to you,
Those pleasures that the Madonna
From her oak tree pardons you,
Veiling herself when necessary.

The carnival with its mask,
Its spangles on the drum,
Its little bells, its whimsical cry,
Defeats the henchmen.

Let’s beat the ground with sounding feet!
Let’s clap our hands again,
Night is coming, and then the dawn,
There’s nothing to do but go on dancing!

More than one kiss escapes and flies away;
Does anyone complain? The crazy dance
Silences the mothers’ words,
All the better for love.

The good priest, who, to follow us,
Leaves everything, but knows how to live,
Sees nothing, glued to his book,
Of what he should not see.

But what! Tomorrow the Camaldules (Benedictine Monks of the Camaldolese order)
Will come out of their cells;
Then lent, fasting and bubbling,
Over the town will rain!


Venez, enfants de la Romagne,
Tous chantant de gais refrains,
Quittez la plaine et la montagne
Pour danser aux tambourins.

Rome, la sainte vous les donne,
Ces plaisirs que la madone,
De son chêne vous pardonne,
Se voilant quand il le faut.

Le carnaval avec son masque,
Ses paillettes sur la basque,
Ses grelots, son cri fantasque,
Met les sbires en défaut.

Frappons le sol d'un pied sonore!
Dans nos mains frappons encore!
La nuit vient et puis l'aurore,
Rien n'y fait dansons toujours!

Plus d'un baiser s'échappe et vole;
Se plaint-on? la danse folle,
Coupe aux mères la parole,
C'est tout gain pour les amours.

Le bon curé, qui pour nous suivre,
Laisse tout, mais qui sait vivre,
Ne voit rien avec son livre,
De ce qu'il ne doit pas voir.

Mais quoi! Demain les Camadules
Sortiront de leurs cellules;
Puis, carème, jeûne et bulles,
Sur la terre vont pleuvoir.


Past blog posts:

New York Classical Chorus (singing) - NYC - NY Chorus - All Gay and Gay Friendly Men's Choir - NYC Classical Chorus - Empire City Men's Chorus