Danse of the Orbweaver – For my husband Tom, who loves Halloween and the Orbweavers.
The female Cross Orbweaver spider filmed here has been residing in our garden for several months. She catches a great many insects and also spends a great deal of time maintaining her web, re-spinning damaged sections. The day she caught not one, but two bees, she appeared visibly excited and kept running between the two, seemingly to ensure they were indeed sufficiently immobilized.
Mom Orbweaver has produced an egg sac that is well hidden amongst a loosely arranged nest of several leaves stuck together with her silk. The egg sac is almost as big as she is and may contain up to 800 eggs! She is still hanging around and will guard the eggs for the rest of her life. The first hard frost kills any remaining Orbweavers.
The collective name for spiders is clutster or clutter. The spiderlings will hatch in spring. The cluster stays together until their first molt and then scatter. Come late summer, a mature male may approach a female, cautiously, with lots of advance-and-retreat, and tentative touching. The females are bigger and hungrier. Males don’t survive long after mating, and she may very well eat him.
Saint-Saëns and his Danse Macabre for Halloween
by Cynthia Collins
Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre, Op. 40,” was composed in 1874 as an orchestral tone poem based on a French legend about Death appearing every Halloween at midnight. As he plays his fiddle, the skeletons rise from their graves and dance until dawn, returning to their graves when the rooster crows. Death’s appearance is heard as a solo violin playing tritones.
The idea of a Danse Macabre is more than a legend. Danse Macabre, or Dance of Death, is an allegory that has been around since the 13th century to illustrate that regardless of one’s station in life, death is universal and inevitable. It has been depicted in paintings, frescoes, plays and musical settings. It gained prominence in Europe following major events in the 14th century such as famine, war, and the Black Death.
The use of tritones to represent death or the devil is also rooted in history. Musically, a tritone is three consecutive whole tones, making it an augmented fourth or diminished fifth. During the Middle Ages, it was called the diabolus in musica, or “the Devil in music.” The sound is dissonant, leaving the listener with a sense of it being unfinished, needing resolution.
Saint-Saëns’ first version of his “Danse Macabre” was composed in 1872 as an art song for voice and piano. The text by poet and doctor Henri Cazalis followed the legend. Saint-Saëns reworked the piece for orchestra, with solo violin replacing the vocal line. The music gets faster and faster as the skeletons dance at a frenzied pace but when dawn arrives, everything suddenly slows to a stop for another year.
When the orchestral version was first premiered in 1875, it did not receive good reviews. It was soon transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt, who was a friend of Saint-Saëns. From that, it steadily gained popularity. The work has been performed in concerts throughout the world in various ways from the full orchestral score to piano solos, choreographed for dance performances, and used in film and television programs.