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An exceptional set of piano “arrangements” for Intermediate Level students (Carnival of the Animals) VIDEOS

In the past, I’ve ranted against giving piano students “arrangements” of celebrated compositions like Fur Elise and Chopin’s Waltz in Eb Major. The latter appears, significantly reduced, in the Faber Adult Accelerated edition. It’s a token Classical music offering interspersed by Boogie Woogie snatches. Oh, I forgot the revised Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and a curious transposition of Mozart’s Theme and Variations Sonata, K. 331.

(The above prejudice does not circumscribe well-regarded, advanced level transcriptions by Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and others. Examples: “Liebestraume,” and “Flight of the Bumblebee,” to name a few)

In the realm of elementary and intermediate level piano studies, however, transcriptions or arrangements as found in method books, can be easily replaced with comparably leveled music in original form that has greater musical and teaching value.

Examples: Minuets by Hook, Mozart, J.S Bach, Rameau, et al.

Having said that, I’m going to depart from my well-known inflexibility and praise a collection of Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals “arranged” for piano by Hans-Gunter Heumann.”

I stumbled upon this treasure trove of miniatures after my Intermediate level students had been saturated with the Rachlin ensemble’s performance of Carnival on You Tube.

A feast of wondrous tableaux, it was my student’s entree into the colorful cosmos of French composer, Camille Saint-Saens. Yet, I hadn’t known at the time that my recommended listening assignment would be followed by a hands-on journey through his music in a reduced but appealing form.

As a preliminary, here’s the roster of Rachlin’s You Tube offerings that my students sampled before their playing adventures. (Roger Moore, narrator, serves up delightful Ogden Nash verses as accompaniment)

Now here are selections from Heumann’s colorfully illustrated collection that contains 14 pieces:

Introduction and Lion

This tableau was the springboard for a teaching opportunity:

The Aquarium

The Elephant

RACHLIN sample on the double bass:

Wild Asses


Composer, Camille Saint-Saens (1835 to 1921)

“Le carnaval des animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The orchestral work has a duration between 22 and 30 minutes

“Le carnaval was composed in February 1886 while Saint-Saëns was vacationing in a small Austrian village. It was originally scored for a chamber group of flute/piccolo, clarinet (B flat and C), two pianos, glass harmonica, xylophone, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, but is usually performed today with a full orchestra of strings, and with a glockenspiel substituting for the rare glass harmonica. The term for this rare 11-piece musical ensemble is a “hendectet” or an “undectet.”

“Saint-Saëns, apparently concerned that the piece was too frivolous and likely to harm his reputation as a serious composer, suppressed performances of it and only allowed one movement, Le cygne, to be published in his lifetime. Only small private performances were given for close friends like Franz Liszt.

“Saint-Saëns did, however, include a provision which allowed the suite to be published after his death. It was first performed on 26 February 1922, and it has since become one of his most popular works. It is a favorite of 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 fact, it is very common to see any combination of these three works together on modern CD recordings.”

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Rina, 4, played a duet with me and practiced her SPONGY wrist motion (VIDEO)

The natural follow-up to Rina’s listening assignment this week, was having her play an ostinato portion of Camille Saint-Saens’s THE LION as I played the melody. (from Carnival of the Animals)

An Ostinato is a repeated bass pattern.

I had intentionally selected this composition arranged simply for piano, because of its interval of redundant bass notes, A and E. These can be played in any range as a teacher intones the theme.

First Rina had identified these separate notes in all ranges of the piano before she played them as a block chord using fingers 1 and 5, RH then LH, 5 and 1. Bundled into this activity was reinforcement of the “spongy” or supple wrist motion.

We imbued these chords with LONG SOUNDS, or half notes. Rina knows them by the former name, and she realizes that they are held for TWO COUNTS. Over many weeks she’s had a wealth of experience clapping them. (So far she knows “short sounds” which are quarters, and “long sounds” or half notes.) She has shuffled cardboard white and black circles along the way, even composing her own rhythms and then translating them into melody.

Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey provides a nice underpinning.

Here’s how our little LION duet played out. I recorded the Ostinato A, E section:

Rina will practice blocking A and E during the week, dividing the keyboard in half as comfortably fits the right and left hand. She will also “rock” A and E back and forth, each hand alone, using a rotational motion. (demonstrated at lesson) These are each “long sounds” spanning many measures.


Today we explored a NEW note value: The WHOLE NOTE

I cut out a cardboard oval and darkened the boundaries. We clapped “WHOLE NOTE HOLD DOWN,” and separately, ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR.
(Rina and her mom will craft more whole notes out of cardboard during the week)

I enlisted whole notes for a L.H. bass part to accompany “Frere Jacques” which Rina had already mastered. Currently, she can see my WHOLE NOTE ENTRIES in measures she’s been “reading” on a paper with floating treble notes and stems. Now the Left Hand whole notes are drawn under those for the Right Hand. (approximating the way she will actually read music on the staff when she’s ready)

Back to Carnival of the Animals.

Rina has been listening to the Rachlin ensemble You Tube performance of The LION, and separately, to a transcription for piano that I recorded. The latter gives her an opportunity to play her A-E chord to the music during the week. (and then to “rock” the notes back and forth)


Lessons are moving along nicely. Rina plays “Frere Jacques” in C Major and C parallel minor (using Eb) and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

She’s been studying piano with me for 5 months.

Here’s Rina, Miss Denise, her French tutor, and Aiden cat all bundled together.