Composers Datebook®

Vivaldi and Messiaen for the birds

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) — Flute Concerto, R. 428 (Goldfinch) (Patrick Gallois, flute; Orpheus Orchestra) DG 437 839 Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) — Le Reveil des oiseaux (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano; Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, cond.) DG 453 478


Composer's Datebook - October 11, 2021

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October 11, 2021

Synopsis

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then composers must really have a thing about birds. For centuries, composers have imitated bird song. Vivaldi’s “Goldfinch” concerto for flute is one of the best-known examples from the 18th century, and there are a flock of other examples.

On today’s date in 1953, at the Donaueschingen Music Festival in Germany, one of the most famous 20th century examples of “music for the birds” had its premiere performance. This was a piece by the French composer Olivier Messiaen for piano and orchestra, entitled “Le Réveil des Oiseaux,” or “The Awakening of the Birds.”

The musical themes for this work were all based on Messiaen’s precise notation of the songs of 38 different French birds. The piece’s structure progresses from midnight to midday, with the birds’ actual “awakening” occurring precisely at 4 a.m. at the first light of a spring day.

Messiaen’s interest in bird songs and nature was as deep as his religious faith. As he put it:  “I give bird songs to those who dwell in cities and have never heard them, make rhythms for those who know only military marches or jazz, and paint colors for those who see none."

Music Played in Today's Program

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) — Flute Concerto, R. 428 (Goldfinch) (Patrick Gallois, flute; Orpheus Orchestra) DG 437 839

Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) — Le Reveil des oiseaux (Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano; Cleveland Orchestra; Pierre Boulez, cond.) DG 453 478

On This Day

Births

  • 1882 - Canadian-born American composer R. Nathaniel Dett, in Drummondsville, Ontario;

Deaths

  • 1896 - Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, age 72, in Vienna;

Premieres

  • 1727 - Handel: "Coronation Anthems," in London at Westminster Abbey during the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline (Gregorian date: Oct. 22);

  • 1830 - Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, in Warsaw, composer as soloist;

  • 1928 - Nielsen: Clarient Concerto, at a public concert in Copenhagen, with the composer conducting and Aage Ozenvad the soloist; This concert had been given a private performance in Humlebaek on September 14, 1928);

  • 1947 - Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6, by Leningrad Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting;

  • 1952 - Prokofiev: Symphony No. 7, by Moscow Philharmonic, Samuil Samosud conducting;

  • 1953 - Messiaen: "Réveil des oiseaux," in Donaueschingen, Germany;

  • 1955 - B.A. Zimmermann: "Nobody Knows de Trouble I See" for Trumpet and Orchestra, in Hamburg, by the North German Radio Orchestra conducted by Ernest Bour, with Adolf Scherbaum the soloist;

  • 1962 - Carlisle Floyd: opera "The Passion on Jonathan Wader," by the New York City Opera;

  • 1977 - Bernstein: "Songfest," "Three Mediations from 'Mass,'" and "Slava!" by the National Symphony, conducted by the composer ("Songfest" and "Meditations"‚ and Mstislav Rostropovich ("Slava!"); Rostropovich was also the cello soloist in the "'Meditations";

  • 1980 - Bernstein: "A Musical Toast ( A Fanfare in Memory of André Kostelanetz)" by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta;

  • 1980 - Zemlinksy: opera "Der Traumgörge" (Goerge the Dreamer), posthumously, in Nuremberg at the Opernhaus (This opera was written in 1906);

  • 1985 - John Harbison: String Quartet No. 1, at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., by the Cleveland Quartet.

  • 1985 - Michael Torke: “Vanada” for brass, keyboards and percussion, at the Concertgebouw Chamber Hall in Amsterdam, by the Asko Ensemble, Lukas Vis conducting.