With restrictions of movement meaning that we're spending an increasing amount of time at home, we're all looking for new things to do and different ways to stay entertained during this period of confinement. Music is one thing that a lot of people are turning to. Its ability to embody a range of emotions and to connect to all of us on different levels makes it a comfort during these uncertain times. Join Head of Music Programmes, Dr Catherine Hocking, each week as she shares a selection of some of her favourite pieces.
At present, the brief opportunities to enjoy nature outside feel even more special. Waking with the noisy early dawn chorus, I'm always surprised by the sheer numbers of different birds that live in the neighbourhood. I am fortunate to live within walking distance of Attenborough Nature Reserve so occasionally my daily exercise allows me to spend some moments observing its wildfowl inhabitants. Birdsong has long been an inspiration to composers and the following are a handful of my favourites.
EINOJUHANI RAUTAVAARA – CANTUS ARCTICUS
Concerto for Birds and Orchestra – 1. The Marsh
Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus: Concerto for Birds and Orchestra is hauntingly evocative of the marshlands of northern Finland. Recordings of birdsong – fell larks, whooper swans and other marsh birds from the Arctic Circle are interwoven with the orchestral score. The first movement transports the listener to the bogs in Liminka, northern Finland.
ANTONIO VIVALDI – 'II GARDELLINO' ('THE GOLDFINCH')
For a more spirited, joyful and uplifting musical birdsong here's the first movement of Vivaldi's Flute Concerto aptly nicknamed 'The Goldfinch':
OLIVIER MESSIAEN – QUARTET FOR THE END OF TIME
Abîme des oiseaux (Abyss of Birds)
Olivier Messaien held a lifelong fascination with birdsong resulting in numerous pieces inspired by the songs he collected. This next piece is the solo clarinet movement from his remarkable Quartet for the End of Time composed whilst Messiaen was a prisoner of war in Stalag VIII-A. The premiere performance took place outside in January 1941 to an audience of 400 prisoners. In the Preface to the score Messiaen wrote of this movement:
The abyss is Time, with its sorrows and its weariness. The birds are the opposite of Time; they are our desire for light, for stars, for rainbows and joyful songs!"
NIGEL WESTLAKE – PENGIUN BALLET FROM SUITE 'ANTARCTICA'
From the Arctic to the polar region at the other end of the globe, Nigel Westlake's Suite for guitar and orchestra was composed for the IMAX film 'Antarctica'. As the iconic image of Antarctica, penguins are comedic in their ungainly gait on land but once underwater they become graceful, almost balletic: