Saint-Saëns worked in all genres – operas, symphonies, symphonic poems, chamber and vocal works, virtuoso concert opuses filled with brilliance, vitality and fantasy. Among his most famous works, along with the opera “Samson and Delilah”, the Third Symphony (with organ), the symphonic poem “Danse macabre”, the Piano Concerto No 2, the Cello Concerto No 1, Habanera, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin, is “CARNIVAL OF ANIMALS”.
The idea of “a great zoological fantasy” was born in the early 1860s, when the young Saint-Saëns, a teacher at the Niedermeier School of Classical and Church Music, promises its students a humorous work. It saw a light of day, though only after more than two decades – the already famous composer and pianist, following a disastrous concert tour of Germany in 1885–86, Saint-Saëns withdrew to a small Austrian village, where he composed The Carnival of the Animals in February 1886 It was a surprise for the brilliant French cellist Charles Lebouc for his upcoming participation in a carnival concert. His performance of “The Swan” became immediately one of the most popular plays of Saint-Saëns, reworked for all instruments and converted into the unsurpassed ballet masterpiece “The Dying Swan” by the famous choreographer Mikhail Fokin for the great ballerina of the XXth century, Anna Pavlova.
It was first performed at a private on March, 3rd 1886, a few days later, a second performance was given at the home of Pauline Viardot with an audience including Franz Liszt, who had expressed a wish to hear the work. Saint-Saëns did specify in his will that the work should be published posthumously so it was published by Durand only in 1921. Тhe first public performance was given on 25 February 1922 by Concerts Colonne (the orchestra of Édouard Colonne).