long time ago, when the world seemed a different place and I was very young,
my parents used to occasionally give me a small chocolate mouse. It was
intended as a special treat so it didn’t happen very often. Each mouse had
two pink eyes made of candy, a brown chocolate body and a long brown tail.
I cannot recall whether or not the tail was edible. The problem was that
because I was very fond of animals, I couldn’t easily bring myself to eat
them, especially the heads. I always had a nagging feeling that it would
cause them emotional distress. Fortunately, in later life I overcame these
childlike concerns and if anyone offers me a chocolate mouse these days, I
can eat it without hesitation, except of course the tail. Unfortunately,
people rarely do.
So it was with some
delight that wandering in the supermarket last week, I found a box not of
chocolate mice, but of animal-shaped biscuits. They are called,
appropriately Two by Two and come from Ashbourne in Derbyshire. You
can even buy a colourful tin in the shape of an Ark, containing biscuits in
the form of monkeys, lions, kangaroos and elephants. Some of the packs even
have a nursery rhyme or fable printed on the side. It is reassuring to know
that in our troubled world you can still buy animal-shaped biscuits and it
just goes to show that things can’t be all that bad. In case you’re
interested, you can buy a small pack for Bt. 155 at Villa.
I suspect that the
French composer Camille Saint-SaŽns would have enjoyed animal-shaped
biscuits and possibly even chocolate mice, because in 1886 he wrote an
animal-inspired work quite different in style from his huge output of
symphonies, concertos, operas and chamber music.
Saint-SaŽns (1835-1921, France): Carnival of the Animals .
Gašparoviś, Nikola Kos (pno), Komorni Ansambl MuziŤke Akademije U Zagrebu
(Duration: 27:12; Video: 720p HD)
This is a work for
small ensemble with fourteen short movements, each of which depicts an
animal or a group of animals. It must have given Saint-SaŽns a great deal
of amusement composing the music and he admitted that he wrote the piece
just for the fun of it and intended it as a private entertainment for
The second movement,
Hens and Roosters is a parody on a piece by Rameau; and Pianists
(who Saint-SaŽns obviously considers as animals) are heard painfully
lumbering up and down scales. In Tortoises, the strings play an
extremely slow and laboured version of the Can-can from Offenbach’s operetta
Orpheus in the Underworld. The thirteenth movement, The Swan
is the famous cello solo of the same name, known to generations of cello
performance by talented young musicians from Zagreb has excellent sound and
video quality and it’s also available in HD, making full screen viewing not
only possible but pleasurable. I noticed that the musicians all seem to be
playing from photocopies, so perhaps times are tough in Zagreb. They
probably don’t have animal biscuits there either, let alone chocolate mice.
(1891-1953, Russia): Peter and the Wolf.
Orchestra cond. Bramwell Tovey (Duration: 29:30; Video: 1080p HD)
This is one of
Prokofiev’s best-known works, especially among school children. It was
written in 1936 as a commission from the Central Children’s Theatre in
Moscow and Prokofiev managed to knock out the words and music in just four
days. You probably know the story. It concerns a bird, a duck, a cat, some
hunters, a grumpy and over-cautious grandfather and of course, Peter and the
dreaded wolf. It’s written for narrator and orchestra and each character is
represented by different instruments.
There are countless
recordings of the work, dating back to the 1940s. Almost every actor you
can think of has recorded it including Peter Ustinov, Patrick Stewart (of
Star Trek fame), Basil Rathbone, Sir Ralph Richardson, Boris Karloff,
and Sean Connery to name but six. Even Dame Edna Everage has had a go at
Unusually, in this
video, the conductor and the narrator are the same person. Bramwell Tovey
is a British composer and conductor who has been music director of the
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra since September 2000. He does a pretty decent
job as narrator and the musicians in the orchestra seem to enjoy
themselves. It’s all good clean fun for young kids, even though one of the
orchestral players bears an unsettling resemblance to the actor Anthony
Hopkins, who played the role of the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal
Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.
Heavens, I am quiet
exhausted after all that excitement. I’ll go and make a coffee and have an
animal biscuit. And yes, I did succumb to temptation and bought a pack.