Saint-Saens’ Le Cygne (Godowsky’s transcription in G flat major)

Camille Saint Saens - Carnival of the Animals

Camille Saint-Saens composition of Le Cygne (The Swan) from his famous Carnival of the Animals was beautifully paraphrased by the great Polish American pianist and composer Leopold Godowsky.


This Godowsky arrangement requires delicate and passive note playing by the right hand to bring alive the melodic line embedded among a continuous string of semiquavers. Personally, I have found using the “flat fingers” technique to be most the most effective in making the melodic line “sing”.

Shura Cherkassky’s interpretation brought alive all the delicate filigree of sub-melodies and motives in this arrangement. In particular, the cleverly embedded left hand motive (E flat – A flat – B flat – C flat – D flat – E flat) in bar 15 among the string of semiquavers was beautifully distinct and Cherkassky’s interpretation remains the only published performance on youtube that I came across which effectively demonstrated the ingenuity of Godowsky’s legendary arrangements.

Towards the end of the piece in bar 22, Godowsky introduced a polyrhythm where the left hand plays triplets to accompany the right hand which plays the melody in octaves. This section requires delicate left hand playing so as not to overwhelm the melody.

It was pretty torturous when I started learning this Godowsky arrangement because it sounds absolutely horrible when all notes are played the same way (without passive note playing). My first task for any new piece is to committed the entire piece to memory. Thereafter, not having to read the score helps me to break the piece into smaller sections and begin practicing each section with more accurate passive note playing. Such exhiliration when the beautiful melody begins to appear and take shape! Personally, I find the flat finger technique is great for playing on a lot of black keys like this piece. Unfortunately my piano teacher smacked my knuckles whenever I straightened my fingers to play when I was a kid.

This is still one of the most satisfying and beautiful piece to play really well.

Anderson & Roe piano duo

As a result of the popularity of such a beautiful piece of music, new arrangements have emerged. Here is another beautiful transcription by the piano duo of Anderson and Roe.

Listen to more of ChopinandMysaucepan‘s favourite music here.

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4 Responses to Saint-Saens’ Le Cygne (Godowsky’s transcription in G flat major)

  1. Nice I never could get into it myself. But I really like to listen to most classic music.

  2. Alaina says:

    I just started studying this piece for a performance, I would see how you play it. Did you take a video of it?

    • Chopinand says:

      Dear Alaina,

      No I didn’t do a video for this one. I love playing this piece and I think the challenge is practising the passive note playing so the melody can “sing”.

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