Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Classical Animals

I used to know a musicologist who, once a year, would wear a tie with the image of a trout on it to class. Can anyone guess why? The answer is that this was the day he covered Schubert's "Trout" Quintet in his history class. Apparently you can buy them:

The "Trout" Quintet is so called because the fourth movement is a set of variations on his song "The Trout" ("Die Forelle"). Wait, that gives us another animal piece. Here's the song sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore. Very 'trouty' piano part:

I put up a post the other day about a symphony nicknamed "The Bear". We have quite a few pieces of classical music named after animals. The "Bear" Symphony is by Haydn. The very next symphony in his oeuvre, the Symphony No. 83 is nicknamed "The Hen". The reason for this is apparently the resemblance of a theme in the first movement to the clucking of a hen. I'm not quite sure it counts, but Haydn's very first string quartet is nicknamed "The Hunt", as is one of his symphonies. The hunt is for game animals, of course.

You get a whole bunch of animals with Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. This is a very amusing suite that depicts quite a few animals. Not a nickname, but there is an aria from a secular cantata, the "Hunting Cantata", by Bach known by its English title: "Sheep May Safely Graze". Oh, and there is the duet for two cats from a Rossini opera. It was actually written by Robert Lucas de Pearsall. We have to hear this:

Ok, settle down. Also in a comic vein was a possibly the strangest commission ever received by a composer. Stravinsky, renowned ballet composer, was asked to write a piece for the circus entitled "Circus Polka". What's the animal connection? It was choreographed to be performed by fifty elephants. In tutus. Tragically, there seems to be no YouTube clip of that performance available, so here is an orchestral performance:

The 1924 opera by Leoš Janáček called "The Cunning Little Vixen" is about a forester and a female fox. Alan Hovaness wrote a piece for orchestra and recorded whale sounds called "And God Created Great Whales". Johann Strauss III wrote an operetta called "Die Fledermaus" ("The Bat"). The fifth movement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is titled "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks". We really should hear that one:

Poor Mussorgsky! The most famous picture of him is this portrait painted shortly before he died of acute alcoholism. He was in the hospital at the time and probably just fell out of bed...

This concludes our tour for today. Let's end with the Carnival of the Animals:

No comments: