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The Danse Macabre consists of the dead or a personification of death summoning representatives from all walks of life to dance along to the grave , typically with a pope , emperor , king , child , and laborer. It was produced as memento mori , to remind people of the fragility of their lives and how vain were the glories of earthly life. The earliest recorded visual example is the lost mural on the south wall of the cemetery of the Holy Innocents in Paris, which was painted in during the regency of John, Duke of Bedford : with its emphatic inclusion of a dead crowned king at a time when France did not have a crowned king, the mural may well have had a political subtext.
This work was destroyed when the wall was torn down in , but a copy by Albrecht Kauw is extant. The deathly horrors of the 14th century such as recurring famines , the Hundred Years' War in France , and, most of all, the Black Death , were culturally assimilated throughout Europe. The omnipresent possibility of sudden and painful death increased the religious desire for penance , but it also evoked a hysterical desire for amusement while still possible; a last dance as cold comfort.
The danse macabre combines both desires: in many ways similar to the mediaeval mystery plays , the dance-with-death allegory was originally a didactic dialogue poem to remind people of the inevitability of death and to advise them strongly to be prepared at all times for death see memento mori and Ars moriendi. Short verse dialogues between Death and each of its victims, which could have been performed as plays, can be found in the direct aftermath of the Black Death in Germany and in Spain where it was known as the Totentanz and la Danza de la Muerte , respectively.
It is possible that the Maccabean Martyrs were commemorated in some early French plays or that people just associated the book's vivid descriptions of the martyrdom with the interaction between Death and its prey. Both the dialogues and the evolving paintings were ostensive penitential lessons that even illiterate people who were the overwhelming majority could understand. Frescoes and murals dealing with death had a long tradition and were widespread, e. Numerous mural versions of that legend from the 13th century onwards have survived for instance, in the Hospital Church of Wismar or the residential Longthorpe Tower outside Peterborough.
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Since they showed pictorial sequences of men and corpses covered with shrouds, those paintings are sometimes regarded as cultural precursors of the new genre. A danse macabre painting may show a round dance headed by Death or a chain of alternating dead and live dancers. From the highest ranks of the mediaeval hierarchy usually pope and emperor descending to its lowest beggar, peasant, and child , each mortal's hand is taken by a skeleton or an extremely decayed body. The famous Totentanz by Bernt Notke in St. The apparent class distinction in almost all of these paintings is completely neutralized by Death as the ultimate equalizer, so that a sociocritical element is subtly inherent to the whole genre.
The Totentanz of Metnitz , for example, shows how a pope crowned with his mitre is being led into Hell by the dancing Death. Usually, a short dialogue is attached to each victim, in which Death is summoning him or, more rarely, her to dance and the summoned is moaning about impending death. In the first printed Totentanz textbook Anon. Emperor, your sword won't help you out Sceptre and crown are worthless here I've taken you by the hand For you must come to my dance.
At the lower end of the Totentanz , Death calls, for example, the peasant to dance, who answers:.
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I had to work very much and very hard The sweat was running down my skin I'd like to escape death nonetheless But here I won't have any luck. The painting at the back wall of the chapel of Sv. He is, he tells the bemused couple seeking Halloween frights, his own thing. David S. Pumpkins might indeed be his own thing, but whether they knew it or not, the Saturday Night Live writers who came up with those dancing skeletons were tapping into an image with a very long history: the Danse Macabre , a medieval allegory about the inevitability of death.
In the Danse Macabre , or Dance of Death , skeletons escort living humans to their graves in a lively waltz. Kings, knights, and commoners alike join in, conveying that regardless of status, wealth, or accomplishments in life, death comes for everyone. Though a few earlier examples exist in literature, the first known visual Dance of Death comes from around Stretched across a long section of wall and visible from the open courtyard of the cemetery, the fresco depicted human figures all male accompanied by cavorting skeletons in a long procession.
Instead, it was a public space used for gatherings and celebrations attended by all sorts of different people.
Danse Macabre (arr Laurendeau)
These cemetery visitors, on seeing the Dance of Death , would certainly have been reminded of their own impending doom, but would also have likely appreciated the image for its humorous and satirical aspects as well. The grinning, dancing skeletons mocked the living by poking fun at their dismay and, for those in positions of power, by making light of their high status.
Inspired by the fresco in Paris, more depictions of the Dance of Death popped up over the course of the s.
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According to the art historian Elina Gertsman, the imagery first spread throughout France and then to England, Germany, Switzerland, and parts of Italy and eastern Europe. Though some of these frescos , murals , and mosaics survive to the present day, many others have been lost and are now only known through archival references.
In Paris, neither the charnel house nor the cemetery still exists. The charnel house was demolished in to widen a nearby street and the cemetery was closed in the s due to overcrowding. But the fresco lives on as a set of woodcuts created by printer Guyot Marchant in After the prints proved popular he went on to make several more editions, including the Danse Macabre des Femmes, a version including women, and an expanded version with ten new characters not found in the original fresco. The best known of these is a series created by artist Hans Holbein the Younger from to , first sold as individual woodcuts and then published in book form in In between, Holbein shows how Death can strike at any moment, regardless of social status or earthly power.
Instead of dancing, the skeletons in this Dance of Death mete out justice, going after their victims in situations that highlight suggested hypocrisies and immorality. A nun, for example, kneels in prayer but looks over her shoulder at her lover while Death snuffs out the candle behind her. And in many of the scenes, peasants and beggars are ignored by the bishops, judges, or kings who are supposed to protect and care for them.
Unlike the rich and powerful, for whom Death represents a loss of status and wealth, the peasant finds relief in dying after a life of hard labor and exploitation. Artists continued to find inspiration in the Dance of Death theme over the next few centuries, changing styles and formats to suit their times. It is in the key of G minor. It started out in as an art song for voice and piano with a French text by the poet Henri Cazalis , which is based on an old French superstition.
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According to legend, Death appears at midnight every year on Halloween. Death calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle here represented by a solo violin. His skeletons dance for him until the rooster crows at dawn, when they must return to their graves until the next year. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note, D, twelve times the twelve strokes of midnight which is accompanied by soft chords from the string section.
The first theme is heard on a solo flute,  followed by the second theme, a descending scale on the solo violin which is accompanied by soft chords from the string section.
The piece becomes more energetic and at its midpoint, right after a contrapuntal section based on the second theme,  there is a direct quote  played by the woodwinds of Dies irae , a Gregorian chant from the Requiem that is melodically related to the work's second theme. The Dies irae is presented unusually in a major key. After this section the piece returns to the first and second themes and climaxes with the full orchestra playing very strong dynamics. Then there is an abrupt break in the texture  and the coda represents the dawn breaking a cockerel 's crow, played by the oboe and the skeletons returning to their graves.
The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. When Danse macabre was first performed it was not well received and caused widespread consternation.follow link
Urban Dictionary: Danse Macabre
Shortly after the premiere, the piece was transcribed into a piano arrangement by Franz Liszt S. Next to countless other piano solo transcriptions, Ernest Guiraud wrote a version for piano four hands and Saint-Saens himself wrote a version for two pianos. Later, the composition was again transcribed for piano solo by Vladimir Horowitz.
There is an arrangement for Pierrot ensemble flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano by Tim Mulleman, and an organ transcription by Edwin Lemare. The piece was later used in dance performances, including those of Anna Pavlova.
An adaptation of the piece is used as the theme music for Jonathan Creek , a mystery crime series on British television. The piece is used in the animated television series Modern Toss as the theme tune for the character Mr. Tourette — Master Signwriter.