Classical Music as Birdsong
April 6, 2005 3:59 PM   Subscribe

What classical works sound like birdsong?

I just interviewed an author who described the song of the Black Headed Grosbeaks as Yo-Yo Ma laying into a sonata.

He then went further, calling it a cascade of notes, almost more than you could take in, with the type of energy where you could hear the violinist or cellist attack the strings.

He then asked me if I knew a better referrent than Yo-Yo Ma. I didn't. Do you?
posted by eschewed to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Mozart's Magic Flute has two passages reminiscent of a bird's song. As does La Gata Larda
posted by seawallrunner at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2005

The bird parts of Peter and the Wolf, by Prokofiev.
posted by Soliloquy at 4:18 PM on April 6, 2005

Messiaen deliberately evokes birdsong in some of his music, for example the Quartet for the End of Time. The first movement Liturgy of crystal has violin and clarinet explicitly imitating birdsong. The third movement, Abyss of the birds, is also quite birdlike, although somewhat less figurative. It's also one of my favourite clarinet pieces ever.

The bell birds of New Zealand have a call that sounds exactly like some Beethoven, but I never could pin down exactly which piece.
posted by Nelson at 4:33 PM on April 6, 2005

Many of the works of Olivier Messaien, although that may be a little more literal than you'd like.

On preview, dagnabit, Nelson beat me to it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:34 PM on April 6, 2005

Latvian composer Peteris Vasks' "Plainscapes" for violin, cello and chorus has a prolonged segment of the singers making whistle-like bird sounds.
posted by DawnSimulator at 5:04 PM on April 6, 2005

An obvious one: Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Summer).
posted by swordfishtrombones at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2005

I once saw a documentary which convincingly alleged that the famous melody in Beethoven's 5th mirrors the song of a bird species that frequented his area at the time.
posted by goethean at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2005

Respighi's Pines of Rome.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:57 PM on April 6, 2005

I went looking for a link about Albert Ketelby's "In a Monastery Garden," which is about three-quarters bird twitters and is a hoot (as it were) and looky here's two more: Delius's "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring" and Vaughan Williams' (very beautiful) "The Lark Ascending"
posted by jfuller at 5:59 PM on April 6, 2005

The second movement of Beethoven's 6th contains some very clear, explicit birdsongs. Especially the last minute or so.
posted by agropyron at 6:09 PM on April 6, 2005

The Gamelan music of Indonesia has been compared to birdsong, and one track off this album even has a translated title of "Starlings Kissing."
posted by jtron at 6:51 PM on April 6, 2005

The opening bars of the third movement of Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12 ("American") is based on a birdsong that he heard while visiting Spillville, Iowa.
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:11 PM on April 6, 2005

"Like Cockatoos" by The Cure is a classic.
posted by   at 10:34 PM on April 6, 2005

It’s not quite what you’re asking for, but Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus is a ‘Concerto for Birds and Orchestra,’ in which the band is accompanied by pre-recorded bird-noises. There’s a pretty good recording of it on the budget Naxos label.
posted by misteraitch at 11:12 PM on April 6, 2005

Heinrich Ignatz Franz von Biber's delightful Sonata Representativa ('Representatio Avium'), for solo violin, imitates the song of the nightingale, the cuckoo, the hen and the quail.
posted by verstegan at 2:28 AM on April 7, 2005

Resphigi wrote a suite for orchestra, Gli Ucelli (the birds), which has some very good imitations of birdsong.

As wolfdog says, he also wrote both instrumental birdsongs and called for an actual recording of a nightingale in The Pines of Rome.

Clement Janequin (a renaissance composer) wrote a wonderful choral work, "Le Chant des Oiseaux," which is almost entirely imitations of birdsong.

Shakespeare's "Love's Labors Lost" closes with the song "When dasies pied," containing the lines "Cuckoo, cuckoo!' O word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear." This has been set to music many times. ("Cockoo" sounds like "cuckold.")
posted by KRS at 11:14 AM on April 7, 2005

Oh, yes, and let's not forget that great classic "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing (Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, Tweet)."
posted by KRS at 11:57 AM on April 7, 2005

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