Saint-Saëns was a great admirer of the symphonic poems by Franz Liszt. His own symphonic poem “Danse macabre” reflects his affinity to medieval superstitions and a tribute to Liszt’s “Totentanz”.
“Danse macabre” is based on the eponymous song Saint-Saëns composed in 1872 after Henri Cazalis’ poem. At its premiere, the work was not well-received; in fact it was booed, possibly due to the “diabolic” solo violin playing on an E-string that was tuned down to E-flat, which the audience might have misinterpreted as being out of tune. However within ten years the work had become so popular that Saint-Saëns quoted some of its musical themes in “The Carnival of the Animals”. Since the composer’s death, “Danse macabre” is among the works most often mentioned in connection with the theatrical face of death found in popular mortuary cult.