Charles Gounod was given to extended bouts of professional lethargy, particularly when personal matters weighed heavily on his mind. So it was in 1869, when he struggled to meet the demands for the Paris revival of his opera Faust, written some 10 ywars earlier. His original opera had met with both favourable reviews, including one from Berlioz, and hew harsh ones too—including a notable one from Wagner. Despite some early negative reviews the opera grew in stature culminating in its Paris revival. As with French operatic tradition, a 15-minute ballet was inserted into Act V. However, the ballet music was almost not written—not by Gounod at least—as he was reluctant to put pen to paper. He asked the young Camille Saint-Saëns to pen some thing instead. Saint-Saëns agreed on the understanding that should Gounod write something suitable, he would replacce it if he wished. According to Saint-Saëns he heard nothing more of it and never wrote a note!
The ballet music appears in the Walpurgis Night revelries where legendary and heroic characters dance to music that is curiously uplifting and buoyant until the finale, also known as Phyné’s Dance, where ominous sounds of wild and wicked celebrations from the underworld can be heard. This arrangement is a fitting piece as either a concert finisher or encore.