Saint-Saens was born in Paris. He became famous as a composer and also as a very clever pianist. He first played the piano at a concert when he was only 8 years old, and he was still giving concerts when he was 85.
The composer was very fond of animals and wrote a book about them. One year while he was on holiday, he composed a set of orchestral character pieces called "Carnival of the animals". It consists of 14 movements. Each movement in "Carnival of the Animals" music describes a particular animal, usually by mimicking the sounds it makes or characterizing the way it moves or carries itself. The piece is scored for two solo pianos and a small orchestra of flute, piccolo, clarinet, xylophone, glass harmonica (usually replaced these days by celesta or glockenspiel in performance), and strings. "Carnival of the Animals" music and plot are patently humorous, often intentionally parodistic.
But Saint-Saens only allowed the piece to be performed twice during his lifetime (once publicly by the Societe de la Trompette and once in a private performance requested by Franz Liszt, the famous piano virtuoso and composer who was a close friend of Saint-Saens), likely because he feared the work would hurt his reputation as a serious composer. Saint-Saëns' will, however, included a provision which allowed the suite to be published after his death and it has since become one of his most popular works. Only the movement "The Swan" was published before the composer's death; that particular movement became a stunningly popular work with cellists and audiences alike, remaining one of Saint-Saens's most successful pieces for many years afterward.
Here are some movements from "Carnival of the Animals" music themes:
Lions - The piece starts with the lions waking up, stretching before they spring to their feet. Loud roaring sounds played on the pianos and later strings, warn us how fierce these animals are. Strings and pianos.
Tortoise - A musical joke. This piece is 'the Can-Can' played much slower. Strings and pianos.
Elephant - Starts with plodding music and then another musical joke. The elephant would like to be a dancer, the music should be graceful but is a 'clumsy' dance tune (Saint-Saens borrowed this music from French composer Berlioz). Double bass.
The Aquarium - Sparkling sounds on the glockenspiel represent these fish swimming gracefully through the water glockenspiel.
Donkeys - The sounds make it quite obvious which animals these should be! Violin.
Aviary - Most important instrument is the flute representing the tweeting and the movement of the birds. Flute, Strings, Piano.
Fossils - Another musical joke. A piece made up of several tunes which he has 'dug up' from the past A very skeletal piece.
Ogden Nash wrote a set of humorous verses to accompany each movement, which are often recited when the work is performed.For the moment "Carnival of the Animals" music is one of the most popular among music teachers and young children, along with Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.
In 1999, Walt Disney Feature Animation incorporated one theme from "Carnival of the animals" into Fantasia 2000. In the film, a flock of flamingos is annoyed by another flamingo with a yo-yo. The music was recorded by James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. So, the all-absorbing Hollywood retouched the classic work into the new movie version of "Carnival of the animals" for kids.