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Saint-Saens – The Swan (Le cygne) for cello and piano

Saint-Saens – The Swan (Le cygne) for cello and piano. You can download the PDF sheet music Saint-Saens – The Swan for cello and piano on this page. Le cygne or The Swan, is the 13th and penultimate movement of The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. Originally scored for solo cello accompanied by two pianos, it has been arranged and transcribed for many instruments but remains best known as a cello solo. In this elegiac miniature the cello is in the limelight, the piano accompanies the affectionate cantilena gently. After the gliding away of the elegant swan the last tones of the piano fade away like dying waves.

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PDF format sheet music

Cello part: 1 pages. 61 K


Piano part: 3 pages. 425 K


Instrument part - First page Piano part - First page
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The piece is in 6/4 time, with a key signature of G major and a tempo marking andantino grazioso. The slow cello melody is accompanied by almost constant broken chord figurations on the pianos. When performed as a separate movement, not in the context of The Carnival, The Swan is frequently played with accompaniment on only one piano.

This is the only movement from The Carnival of the Animals that the composer allowed to be played in public during his lifetime. He thought the remaining movements were too frivolous and would damage his reputation as a serious composer.

Because of its slow tempo and mostly legato performance indications, the movement is suitable for performance on the theremin and has joined Sergei Rachmaninoff's Vocalise and Jules Massenet's Méditation from his opera Thaïs among the classical works central to the theremin repertoire.

Early in 1886, the fifty-year-old Saint-Saëns went to Austria on holiday and, as relaxation from his simultaneous work on his third symphony, embarked on a brief cello solo for the well-known performer Charles-Joseph Lebouc, who was about to retire. One thing led to another, and in a matter of days Le cygne had turned into a 'grande fantaisie zoologique' (though it has to be said that he had had this project vaguely in mind for some twenty years). Although Le cygne was duly published, the composer resolutely set his face against the other thirteen pieces being played during his lifetime outside a small circle of friends, and Le carnaval des animaux as a whole was not published until 1922, the year after his death. The reason was he was nervous about how such a work would be received in Germany, where he appeared regularly as a pianist. As mentioned above, the intention of the Société Nationale was to appear professional and serious, so jokes were out. In 1886 Saint-Saëns was also in a particularly delicate situation, since he had in the previous year published a series of articles on Wagner in which he resisted the notion that, 'until he arrived, Drama and Music were in their childhood and paved the way for his appearance', a wholly reasonable resistance that had brought all Valhalla crashing round his head. Le carnaval therefore led a quiet private life for over thirty years, brought out on the salon circuit for those who might appreciate it, such as Liszt on his last visit to Paris a few months before his death. The choreographer Mikhail Fokine, who usedZe cygne for Pavlova's famous dance 'The Dying Swan', learnt it on the mandolin. The ballerina's dying words were 'Prepare my Swan costume!'

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