SAINT-SAËNS The Swan

From Saint-Saëns’ mag­i­cal suite, Car­ni­val Of The An­i­mals, comes this chal­leng­ing but beau­ti­ful piece. Brid­get Mermikides in­tro­duces ‘Le Cygne’.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Brid­get Mermikides ar­ranges and tran­scribes a chal­leng­ing but beau­ti­ful piece from Saint-Saëns’ mag­i­cal suite, Car­ni­val Of The An­i­mals.

This month we re­turn to the ex­cel­lent com­poser Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), whose Aquar­ium we tack­led in GT245. Saint-Saëns had a wide range of skills, from re­spected mu­sic teacher (with stu­dents such as Gabriel Fauré) to multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist (pi­ano, or­gan, con­duc­tor) and a prodi­gious com­poser for a wide range of in­stru­ments and en­sem­bles. De­spite his enor­mous out­put of su­perb pieces, it is per­haps one small set of works that he com­posed as a ‘dis­trac­tion’ – when he should have been writ­ing his third sym­phony – that has en­dured the most pop­u­lar ap­peal. The 14-move­ment work Car­ni­val of the An­i­mals (1886), de­spite (or per­haps be­cause of) be­ing writ­ten with lit­tle am­bi­tion is full of care-free imag­i­na­tion, hu­mour, un­usual in­stru­men­ta­tion and mu­si­cal skill. Each move­ment of the suite is inspired by dif­fer­ent an­i­mals. It per­fectly cap­tures with its in­stru­men­ta­tion, melody and har­mony the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the sub­jects, from the swirling mo­tion of fish in Aquar­ium (move­ment 7), a plod­ding string melody in Tor­toises (move­ment 4) and the trilling ac­tiv­ity in Aviary (move­ment 10).

Here, I’ve ar­ranged move­ment 13, the stun­ningly beau­ti­ful Le Cygne (The Swan). It was orig­i­nally com­posed for the cello and two pi­anos of the Car­ni­val’s un­usual ensem­ble, but is now bet­ter known as a cello solo. How­ever, it has also been ar­ranged for a wide range of in­stru­men­ta­tion – in­clud­ing be­ing a sta­ple of the theremin’s reper­toire.

The piece is char­ac­terised by a har­mon­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated arpeg­giated ac­com­pa­ni­ment by the pi­anos, while the cello plays a stun­ningly beau­ti­ful melody inspired by the myth­i­cal but beau­ti­fully ro­man­tic idea of a dy­ing swan’s fi­nal song.

De­spite the rel­a­tively slow lyri­cism of the melody and the guitar-like arpeg­gios, how to make these two es­sen­tial el­e­ments work on solo guitar is a real chal­lenge. For­tu­nately, I was helped when I came across an in­ge­nious tun­ing for this piece made by the gui­tarist Mike Ge­or­giades (mikege­or­giades.com), who kindly al­lowed me to adopt it for this ar­range­ment along with many of his bril­liant ar­range­ment ideas.

So this ar­range­ment uses the rare open Eb tun­ing, which is (from sixth string to first, low to high) Eb-Bb-Eb-G-Bb-Eb. This is like hold­ing an open E chord but with the whole guitar tuned down a semi­tone. This open tun­ing means that it be­comes pos­si­ble to use open strings in the cor­rect key while play­ing a high melody. The choice of Eb ma­jor (trans­pos­ing down from the orig­i­nal key from G ma­jor) means that each string need only move a semi­tone, the fourth and fifth string up a semi­tone, the rest down a semi­tone.

How­ever, even with this tun­ing the piece is still not easy to play, but it is pos­si­ble with some care­ful work to keep the melody flow­ing and lyri­cal and the ac­com­pa­ni­ment bal­anced. The tab cap­tions will help you achieve this and, re­mem­ber: slow, pa­tient work is al­ways the fastest path to suc­cess.

The piece iS noT So eaSy To play, buT iT iS poS­Si­ble To keep The melody flow­ing and The ac­com­pa­ni­menT bal­anced.

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