The Parisian composer Charles Gounod is best known for his Ave Maria and operas Faust and Romeo and Juliet. From 1870 to 1874 Gounod lived in England and it was during this time that he wrote his Funeral March of a Marionette – a piece that was intended to be part of a series for piano entitled Suite Burlesque but which he never finished. The story behind the music and its bizarre title is that following a duel between two marionettes one is killed and is carried to a grave by his friends. On the way they stop off for a few drinks and all get rather inebriated whilst recalling stories about the deceased – hence the apparent jollity of the music!
Gounod’s later orchestration of the piece was, for some time, cited in textbooks as an example of how to make the bassoon ‘sound so extremely funny that the listener was bound to split his sides with laughter’! The piece was used to great effect in Disney’s film, Fantasia. It is also fitting that in 1959 the piece became immortalised in a special arrangement for six bassoons and two contra bassoons and used as the theme music to the TV series Alfred Hitchcock presents. Here the Funeral March of a Marionette is arranged for just four bassoons.