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Why don't more composers use birdsong?

Helen 09 Apr 18 - 03:45 PM
Will Fly 09 Apr 18 - 04:14 PM
Will Fly 09 Apr 18 - 04:18 PM
Jos 09 Apr 18 - 04:35 PM
Helen 09 Apr 18 - 04:37 PM
Tattie Bogle 09 Apr 18 - 05:55 PM
Helen 09 Apr 18 - 06:06 PM
Will Fly 09 Apr 18 - 06:18 PM
Helen 09 Apr 18 - 07:50 PM
Joe Offer 09 Apr 18 - 08:26 PM
Andy7 09 Apr 18 - 09:30 PM
Joe Offer 09 Apr 18 - 10:56 PM
Helen 10 Apr 18 - 12:00 AM
Gibb Sahib 10 Apr 18 - 12:34 AM
BobL 10 Apr 18 - 03:05 AM
GUEST,FloraG 10 Apr 18 - 03:13 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 10 Apr 18 - 03:16 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 10 Apr 18 - 03:34 AM
G-Force 10 Apr 18 - 04:52 AM
Jack Campin 10 Apr 18 - 05:03 AM
GUEST,Peter Laban 10 Apr 18 - 05:08 AM
GUEST,Jerry 10 Apr 18 - 05:23 AM
Helen 10 Apr 18 - 06:15 AM
gillymor 10 Apr 18 - 06:47 AM
Steve Gardham 10 Apr 18 - 10:41 AM
Steve Gardham 10 Apr 18 - 10:44 AM
GUEST,Morris-ey 10 Apr 18 - 11:45 AM
GUEST 10 Apr 18 - 01:06 PM
GUEST 10 Apr 18 - 01:13 PM
Helen 10 Apr 18 - 04:18 PM
GUEST 10 Apr 18 - 04:55 PM
GUEST,Jerry 10 Apr 18 - 04:55 PM
Andy7 10 Apr 18 - 05:19 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 10 Apr 18 - 05:48 PM
Helen 10 Apr 18 - 07:29 PM
Jack Campin 11 Apr 18 - 08:41 AM
GUEST 11 Apr 18 - 08:44 AM
GUEST,bsondahl 11 Apr 18 - 11:01 AM
Jos 11 Apr 18 - 12:55 PM
GUEST,keberoxu 11 Apr 18 - 12:59 PM
Jack Campin 11 Apr 18 - 01:47 PM
Helen 11 Apr 18 - 03:25 PM
Helen 11 Apr 18 - 04:15 PM
GUEST,RA 11 Apr 18 - 07:08 PM
GUEST 11 Apr 18 - 07:12 PM
Helen 11 Apr 18 - 07:33 PM
Steve Shaw 11 Apr 18 - 08:35 PM
GUEST,henryp 12 Apr 18 - 08:36 AM
GUEST 12 Apr 18 - 08:58 AM
GUEST,Jack Campin 12 Apr 18 - 09:19 AM
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Subject: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 03:45 PM

Hi all,

I've been thinking about this for some years, especially when I listen to the birdsong virtuoso of Oz, the grey butcherbird. These birds have an amazing repertoire and I have read that they can pick up on sounds around them, e.g. ringtones on phones, and incorporate them into their songs. Search for videos online for more examples of their songs.

I keep wondering why composers of music don't use birdsong more as an inspiration for their music.

Top 40 Bird Songs - Australia

In fact, I started thinking about it again recently after listening to the tune called
The Wagtail , referred to in this Mudcat thread
Name this tune

I know there are some tunes, which I imagine are based on the birds named e.g. The Lark in the Clear Air, or The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams (I haven't ever heard a lark except maybe on TV), but how many more do you know about? Are there more tunes out there that I am just not aware of?

Helen


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 04:14 PM

There was an English composer who, some years ago, made recordings of a skylark which he slowed down, analysed and then used as the basis of a composition. I'll do some digging...


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 04:18 PM

And there's this...

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-birdsong-pieces


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Jos
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 04:35 PM

Pablo Casals's El cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds).
A Catalan song/tune that he made widely known.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 04:37 PM

Thanks Will.

I thought of the Irish tune called The Blackbird, after I posted this thread. I haven't heard blackbird song, either, but I just listened to it on an internet video.

I'll listen to all those works and I think I might have to retract my thread question.

The notes for the sixth piece by Olivier Messiaen is what I am getting at. He notated birdsong and then incorporated some of them into his works.

I'll have to hunt it down, but I have heard a birdsong related Australian orchestral work, however it seemed to be simply playing audio of birds singing while simultaneously playing "pretty" orchestral music. I only heard it once, and I might have to retract THAT statement as well, if I can find it again. LOL

Helen


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Tattie Bogle
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 05:55 PM

Messaien, yes. And my son: he went out and recorded curlews and other birds to put in his compositions.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 06:06 PM

Tattie Bogle,

It seems to me to be an amazing resource for musical inspiration. In fact, I wonder whether bird song may have been a major factor to inspire humans to create their own music, way back in the dim, distant past of humankind.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Will Fly
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 06:18 PM

One of the reasons for non-use of birdsong may have been the difficulty in analysing it in eras before sound recordings became available.

There are lots of slowed-down videos of birdsong on YouTube - well worth a listen.

And there's the Finnish composer who incorporates bird recordings into his compositions.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 07:50 PM

Some butcherbird videos.

Grey Butcherbird song


About 2 minutes into this video there are four birds singing.

Pied Butcherbird chorus

Butcherbird solo


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 08:26 PM

Don't forget the famous birdsong sequence from the second movement of Beethoven's 6th:Wikipedia says: "Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (two clarinets)."


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Andy7
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 09:30 PM

That was VERY clever writing from Beethoven!

Although most bird songs are not so easily represented by notes on human musical instruments.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 09 Apr 18 - 10:56 PM

I don't want to divert from the original question, but are there compositions that use the sounds of dogs baying and barking and howling and whatnot? There is that one Loreena McKennitt song that uses the baying of hounds [The Stolen Child, lyrics by Yeats], but I'm thinking the original question is thinking of bird sounds reproduced by instruments or voices.
-Joe (who is partial to dogs)-


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 12:00 AM

Hi Joe,

My original question was about birdsong, but hounds, or other animals are good too, just maybe not as beautiful as a butcherbird.

Some didgeridoo players can incorporate dog barking sounds into their music. Clever people!


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 12:34 AM

Why do you think birds have "song" and dogs only have "bark"?


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: BobL
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 03:05 AM

Dogs (and wolves) also howl. I was told as a kid that this is the dog equivalent of singing: nearer the mark, community singing is the human equivalent of a group howl.

Hasn't musical use also been made of dolphin/whale sounds?


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,FloraG
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 03:13 AM

It would make live performances interesting.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 03:16 AM

The Irish 'Blackbird' air/set dance is an allegory for Bonnie Prince Charlie, not so much the bird.

But there are tunes like the 'Morning Thrush' which James Ennis composed based on the song of a thrush in the ivy outside his window. His son Séamus made a nice job of playing it.

There is also the recording 'The Grouse in the Heather' by PJ and Marcus Hernon that is a collection of tunes they composed :

The Grouse In The Heather
The Hunted Pheasant
The Snipe In The Marsh
The Curlew’s Cry
The Invisible Corncrake
The Peeping Plover
The Squeaking Woodcock
The Chattering Stormcock
The Musicial Thrush
The Herring Gull
The Diving Gannet
The Golden Plover
The Bobbing Sandpiper
The Linnet’s Chorus
The Beautifull Goldfinch
The Hovering Kestrel
The Lady’s Falcon
The Lonely Bittern
The Nesting Goldcrest
The Warbling Robin
The Kingfisher’s Delight
The Dark-eyed Raven
The Barefaced Crow

There's a bird theme there I think.

Tunes like The Gander in the Pratie Hole, The Geese in the Bog (and the Dogs among the Bushes) have an arguably an optional element of onamonapia when played on the pipes.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 03:34 AM



'onomatopoeia'


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: G-Force
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 04:52 AM

'Spring' from Vivaldi's Four Seasons.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 05:03 AM

The Finnish composer is Einojuhani Rautavaara, in his "Cantus Arcticus" concerto for recorded birds and orchestra. I've never heard it - after seeing my cats go completely berserk the one time I put a birdsong CD on ("WHERE'S LUNCH HIDING?") I never tried anything like that again.

Whalesong: there is a lovely duet for tuba and recorded whale by a Canadian woman composer whose name I forget, titled "Beneath the Horizon".


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Peter Laban
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 05:08 AM

Kate Bush's album Aerial is full of birdsong


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Jerry
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 05:23 AM

The cuckoo is important in folk music, allegedly because it’s two note song is a perfect third interval, and useful for tuning fiddles to in the days for digital tuners. I’m not quite sure how that works myself because standard fiddle tuning is in fifths. No doubt someone here can explain that.(?)


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 06:15 AM

Then there was Judy Collins: Farewell to Tarwathie with the whale song in the background of the song.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: gillymor
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 06:47 AM

There's this song done by an obscure British combo (just one them anyway) which may be the most listened to bit of birdsong in all of recorded music with the possible exception of the exquisite "Woody Woodpecker Song".

Ossian did "The Corncrake" (coupled with a marvelous jig) with the great Billy Ross on vocals.

You all have a real talent for naming birds down there, Helen. From the list you linked to:

Tawny Frogmouth
Australian Owlet-nightjar
Red Wattlebird
Willie Wagtail
Channel-billed Cuckoo

The latter has a song that could be used in a Hitchcock slasher scene.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 10:41 AM

Part of the beauty and charm of some birdsong is that it is so random or doesn't fit in with our straightjacketed music scales. Blackbird song continues to charm and intrigue me even though I hear it on a daily basis. Occasionally some finch or robin chirps in and that makes a nice change.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 10:44 AM

On Classic FM radio 'The Lark Ascending' has quite rightly topped their charts for many years, although I personally prefer RVW's folksong suites, particularly 'Fantasia on Greensleeves'. I just have to hear the opening notes and it sends me into raptures.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Morris-ey
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 11:45 AM

Did Planxty play "the chattering magpie"?

Finbar Furey played "Foxhunters?" - probably the best rendition I have heard.

More recently Sam Lee had a track which had a live soundtrack of birds in a song - Singing with Nightingales"


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 01:06 PM

Because they don't want to be accused of Fowl Play!


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 01:13 PM

Poultry in motion, eh?


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 04:18 PM

We have lots of good bird noises here. This one is a

pretty birdsong - LOL

The Foxhunters, yes! That penny whistle rendition of the baying hounds.

Someone I know lives in a small semi-rural place and she told me once that she and her husband woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a blood curdling scream. They debated whether their old house was haunted by a woman who had been cruelly murdered (murder most fowl?), but decided it was something outside, moving quite fast, maybe a bird flying over the house. I found an internet video of a screaming fox and played it for her. The scream was blood curdling even when she listened to it on her phone and she said, "That's it! That's exactly what we heard."

screaming fox - 30 seconds into video

Thanks for the Beatles link, gillymor. The blackbird song at the end works with the melody, almost but not quite a counterpoint melody.

And Joe, I feel at a disadvantage compared with northern hemisphere music lovers, because, not knowing a lot of northern birds - except the cuckoo of course - I would never have picked up that the Beethoven piece was referencing birdsong.

I also just thought of Peter and the Wolf, with each section of the music inspired by a specific animal.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 04:55 PM

Why don't more composers use birdsong? Hmmm, maybe because it's cliched beyond belief?


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Jerry
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 04:55 PM

Fiddler Byron Berline played a great medley of bird songs in live shows with the Flying Burrito Brothers some years back, as a comic interlude in the rendition of Chicken Reel, if I remember rightly.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Andy7
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 05:19 PM

Ah, here it is, a little poem of mine about birdsong:

"From fells, through woods, by rivers, ever ring
Such songs as we may never learn to sing!"


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 05:48 PM

"I've Told Every Little Star" is a typical composition with
music by Richard Rodgers and
words by Oscar Hammerstein III,
in that Rodgers handed a wordless tune to Hammerstein,
and Hammerstein was to come up with words to the tune.

On this occasion, Rodgers claimed, so this became anecdotal,
that a songbird had inspired the melody.
Didn't say which songbird.

Tweet Tweet twit-ter twit-ter tweet ...
I've told   ev 'ry   lit-tle star ...

and Hammerstein delivered the goods, lamenting afterwards that this was
one of the tougher assignments Rodgers had ever given him:

"...I wished that bird had kept his big mouth shut."


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 10 Apr 18 - 07:29 PM

Well thanks for that, Guest 10 Apr 18 - 04:55 PM.

I respectfully disagree, because some birdsong is so complex and beautiful that I think it would inspire composers to add melodies, harmonies and counterpoints to them, building on the beauty of nature.

Come to Oz and listen to the butcherbirds, or listen to magpies carolling, or even the strange, almost sub-audible whirring hum of a tawny frogmouth, so eerie in the night, or even the staccato rhythm of a flock of kookaburras announcing rain is coming, or the tinkling bell sounds of the tiny silvereyes and the figbirds.

Maybe Guest agrees with Richard Rodgers and wishes that birds would keep their big mouths shut, but I don't.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 08:41 AM

For recorder players, this is a well known book:

http://imslp.org/wiki/The_Bird_Fancyer%27s_Delight_(Walsh%2C_John)

BBC Radio 4, Sat 9 Jul 2011


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 08:44 AM

Hi Helen, I'm Guest 10 Apr 18 - 04:55 PM.

"I respectfully disagree, because some birdsong is so complex and beautiful that I think it would inspire composers to add melodies, harmonies and counterpoints to them, building on the beauty of nature."

I agree in theory... my issue is that a lot of musicians seem to think it's enough, for example, just to add some field recordings of birdsong to their work, without really exploring or interrogating it in any depth. Hence it becomes something of a cliche - so many records released each year featuring snippets or swathes of birdsong, completely devoid of any serious engagement with or theoretical understanding of that material.

'Maybe Guest agrees with Richard Rodgers and wishes that birds would keep their big mouths shut, but I don't.'

On the contrary - it's precisely because I love and value birdsong so much in its own right that I often wish that human beings would just leave it alone! It is good enough as it is without having to be filtered through human aesthetics. Nothing gives me greater pleasure these spring mornings than to open my window and hear the dawn chorus. I was fortunate to visit Australia one and the various birdsongs and their differences from those of my native Europe was one of the most striking and beautiful things I enjoyed (along with the different constellations).

DON'T GET ME STARTED ON CONSTELLATIONS!


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,bsondahl
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 11:01 AM

I "wrote" this one based on the Chicadee's mating call http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pne0avs34-4


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Jos
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 12:55 PM

Watching twittering swallows gathering on a telegraph wire one autumn, it occurred to us that if it had been the wires making that noise rather than the swallows, people would have rung the council to complain.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,keberoxu
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 12:59 PM

Erm,
it was Oscar Hammerstein III, not Richard Rodgers,
who said
he wished the bird had kept its big mouth shut . . .


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 01:47 PM

Somebody once tried playing Messiaen's versions of birdsong back to the birds and it seems they never recognized it. (Birds can't transpose and the timbre probably matters).

Maaori music had a much deeper involvement with birdsong than anything in the developed world. Because the pre-European-invasion ecosystem was totally dominated by birds, with no native mammals except for bats, birdsong was everywhere at a volume and variety humans have never experienced anywhere else. The Maaori developed instruments that closely mimicked every bird they could, using an extraordinary variety of techniques - but there was no real distinction between a musical instrument and a lure; if you could get a bird's song accurate enough, it might help you catch it as well as praise it. And any musical performance was of necessity a concerto accompanied by a bird orchestra.

Look up "taonga puoro" to see some of the instruments they came up with.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 03:25 PM

Thanks for explaining your previous comment, Guest:

"my issue is that a lot of musicians seem to think it's enough, for example, just to add some field recordings of birdsong to their work, without really exploring or interrogating it in any depth. Hence it becomes something of a cliche."

I respectfully agree with that, and that is the basis of what I said early in the thread, "I have heard a birdsong related Australian orchestral work, however it seemed to be simply playing audio of birds singing while simultaneously playing "pretty" orchestral music. I only heard it once..."

Thanks for that information Jack Campin. I never knew that.

I just thought of a birdsong related song:
King's Singers - Of all the birds. The song starts at 30 seconds into the video.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 04:15 PM

I used to listen to the ABC Classic FM (Oz) radio station on my way to and from work so I used to hear a lot of music that I never knew about before. Elena Kats-Chernin is one of the most memorable composers I heard. She composes beautiful but highly unusual music.

Elena Kats-Chernin - Wild Swans Ballet Suite - Part 1

Listen to the singer from about 2 mins 30 secs into the video. This surprising complexity and clarity reminds me of some birdsongs.

Helen


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,RA
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 07:08 PM

There's an artist named Hanna Tuulikki who has done some interesting work relating to birdsong, particularly her piece 'Away With the Birds': to quote, "a project that explores the mimesis of birds in Gaelic song and the sensitive ecologies of the islands and highlands of Scotland. At its heart is a fifty minute composition in five movements, written for an ensemble of ten female vocalists. It is an extended soundscape in which Tuulikki weaves together fragments from nine Gaelic songs and five poems."

Link here: http://score.awaywiththebirds.co.uk


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 07:12 PM

Why don't more birds incorporate human music into their twitterings?


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Helen
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 07:33 PM

Come to Australia, Guest 11 Apr 18 - 07:12 PM and listen to the lyre birds and the butcherbirds, and don't forget the cockatoos. LOL


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: Steve Shaw
Date: 11 Apr 18 - 08:35 PM

Well there's Delius's On The First Cuckoo In Spring...

It's been mooted that the opening motif of Beethoven's fifth symphony was not a "fate motif" at all but was inspired by the chattering call of the yellowhammer. We have yellowhammers round here ("little bit of bread and no cheese") and I can well believe it. Interestingly, and something I read about at least forty years ago, that motif is almost always played wrong by orchestras (blame the conductor). The symphony actually opens with a rest. Look at the score. If you don't "hear" that rest, the conductor has got it wrong! Without it, the symphony's opening gambit never sounds right to my ears!


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 12 Apr 18 - 08:36 AM

The scarlet tanager, native to Iowa, has a rapid and high pitched song. Dvorák noticed this bird singing incessantly and noted its song down. He included it in the scherzo movement of his American Quartet, to be played by the first violin.


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Apr 18 - 08:58 AM

be more inspired


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Subject: RE: Why don't more composers use birdsong?
From: GUEST,Jack Campin
Date: 12 Apr 18 - 09:19 AM

Why don't more birds incorporate human music into their twitterings?

Some of them do - my wife once got wolf-whistled by a parrot sitting in the window of a bar in Malta.

Mimic birds tend to find mobile ringtones more interesting than human speech, though.


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