A Musical Menagerie

Classical music is definitely for the animals! Composers have been inspired by creatures large and small to create fantastic music. Here are a few that came to our mind.

Sergei Prokofiev adapted Peter and the Wolf for an orchestra back in 1936. It was meant as an introduction to instruments for a young audience, giving different members of the orchestra a specific animal character. The oboe represented a duck; a clarinet for a cat; French horn as a wolf; and a flute representing a bird.

In his “Praise from an Advanced Intellect,” Gustav Mahler portrays a donkey set to judge a contest between a cuckoo or nightingale, with the hope of determining who sings better. Similarly, Gli Uccelli (The Birds), composed by Ottorino Respighi, adapted typical examples of birdsongs to create four movements, depicting a dove, hen, rooster, nightingale, and cuckoo.

In Francois Couperin’s Le moucheron, his sixth ordre depicts an annoying insect buzzing around the listener. Telemann, meanwhile, uses oboes, horns, and bassoons to illustrate his “Concert of Frogs and Crows.” Maurice Ravel’s opera,
L’Enfant et les sortileges,is a magical tale of a child scolded by furniture and animals. Using flutes, clarinets, horns, harp, timpani and other instruments, Ravel depicts an imprisoned squirrel – along with two cats, a dragonfly, and a frog – who unite in a dramatic tirade against their tormentor.

Of course, the most famous of animal-music compositions are Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird and Camile Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. Firebird’s 1910 Paris debut was an instant success, inspired by the mythical creature that is a blessing and a curse. (The piece will also be played during our 2019-20 Season.) Carnival of the Animals is a humorous musical suite of fourteen movements, written following Camille’s disastrous German concert tour in the mid-1880s. First performed at a private concert in 1886, the piece portrays roosters, donkeys, tortoises, elephants, kangaroos. Today, it is regarded as one of the composer’s best compositions.

Click below and listen to a musical menagerie, available on Spotify:

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