Celebrating Halloween by Exploring a “Danse Macabre”

Frequently for holidays we’ll celebrate by posting an evocative picture for students to explore. Today we are using evocative music: Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns. Below is a page of the manuscript in Saint-Saëns’ hand.

Draft of Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, 1 Nov. 1877. From the Moldenhauer Archives at the Library of Congress.

Sound recordings of the piece can be found on the National Jukebox. One is a two part piano duet by Guy Maier and Lee Pattison. The second is by Vessella’s Italian Band.

Cemetery. Carol Highsmith

Ask your students to listen to the music and use the primary source analysis tool (printable tool version and question sets) to encourage deep listening and analysis. Ask your students to listen to the music and to write down how they feel as they listen to the music. Is it telling a story? Where does the story take place? In the version by Vessella’s Italian Band, which instruments are used to portray a specific mood or theme? Students can draw a picture or create a poem or dance to go along with the music. For more inspiration, they might examine an evocative picture, such as this photograph of a cemetery.

The Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Sound Recordings will provide additional prompts that can help students dig deeper.

Have a wonderful Halloween and let us know what your students discover with this activity.




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