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Music in the Making

Music In The Making: In Fine Feather

We’re winging it this week, with ornithological excerpts by Respighi, Delius, and Messiaen. None of the works, however, are swan songs.


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It turns out that birds of a feather do flock together in this episode of Music in the Making. We’ll hear an ornithological array of music by Respighi, Delius, and Messiaen, all inspired by birdsong.

Ottorino Respighi
Madeline Grimoldi
Ottorino Respighi

Ottorino Respighi: Gli Uccelli (“The Birds”)
Moores School Chamber Orchestra; Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor
Moores Opera House

Italian composer Ottorino Respighi was no stranger to incorporating birdsong into his music–the third movement of Pines of Rome utilizes the recorded sound of a nightingale played at the end of the piece. In his orchestral suite, “The Birds,” he imagines several birds in separate movements, including a dove, a hen, a nightingale, and a cuckoo. Each of the movements is based on earlier composers’ depictions of these feathered friends, with music by Rameau, Pasquini, and others.

Frederick Delius
Bergen Public Library, Norway
Frederick Delius

Delius: “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring,” from Two Pieces for Small Orchestra
Moores School Chamber Orchestra
Moores Opera House

English composer Frederick Delius was heavily influenced by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. In fact, Grieg was responsible for convincing Julius Delius, Frederick’s father, to allow his son to pursue a career in music. In “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring,” the first movement of “Two Pieces for Small Orchestra,” Delius quotes “In Ola Valley,” one of Grieg’s Norwegian Folk Tunes, while the clarinet imitates the cuckoo’s call.

Olivier Messiaen
Studio Harcourt
Olivier Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques
Shepherd School Chamber Orchestra, Brian Connelly (piano), and Larry Rachleff (conductor)
Stude Concert Hall

Throughout his career, Messiaen was inspired by bird calls. His teacher, Paul Dukas, famously told him, “Listen to the birds! They are great masters,” a suggestion which the young composer took to heart. In fact, no other composer was as preoccupied with these sounds–Messiaen faithfully transcribed the songs of birds, and in orchestrating them, frequently sought to recreate their timbres as accurately as possible by combining multiple instruments to find an appropriate tone color. In Oiseaux exotiques, or “Exotic Birds,” Messiaen brings together an entire aviary, featuring species from India, China, Malaysia, and the Americas.


This episode originally aired Sunday, May 21st, 2017. Catch Music in the Making every Sunday at 7:06 PM on Classical.