The trend of exoticism in music reached a new height during the late nineteenth century. It was during this time that Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his Samson and Delilah (1877), a famous opera based on the story of Samson from the Old Testament. Let’s continue our exoticism theme this month by looking at the “Danse Bacchanale” from Samson and Delilah.
The famous Biblical story of Samson tells of a Nazarite man who was consecrated before God. One sign of his Nazarite vow and mighty strength was his long hair—he maintained his strength as long as he never cut his hair. When seduced by a Philistine woman named Delilah, Samson lost his strength after allowing her to cut his hair. The Philistines bound and blinded poor Samson, taking him to the temple of their god, Dagon. In the opera, the Philistines perform their pagan rites accompanied by the famous “Danse Bacchanale.”
In order to give the music a foreign flair, Saint-Saëns uses castanets, hypnotizing rhythms, augmented seconds, and an improvisatory, Middle Eastern-sounding oboe. Listen below for these exotic traits:
Next week is Mozart’s birthday, so it’s only right to talk about exoticism in his “Rondo all Turca.” Join me then!