Composers Datebook®

Higdon's "An Exaltation of Larks"

Composer's Datebook - Mar. 1, 2023


English is a quirky language, take for example the way English labels groups of birds – it can be quite idiosyncratic and even poetic: “A conspiracy of ravens,” “A trembling of finches.”

For composers, birdsong has always exerted great fascination and has been a source of inspiration, but on today’s date in 2006, bird nomenclature was the inspiration for a new string quartet that received its premiere in Tucson at a concert sponsored by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music.

The new work was by the American composer Jennifer Higdon, who explains: “The first time someone told me that a collection of larks is called an ‘Exaltation’, I immediately thought, ‘What a sound an exaltation of larks must make!’ This prompted my imagination to run wild – in a composerly-fashion – thinking of thousands of birds flying and singing wildly, with extraordinary energy and intensity. How to capture the beauty of the idea of exalting and singing? A string quartet seemed perfect!“

Higdon’s new quartet, titled An Exaltation of Larks was given its 2006 premiere by the Tokyo String Quartet, but it was perhaps inevitable that its first recording was made by – who else? – the Lark Quartet.

Music Played in Today's Program

Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962) – An Exaltation of Larks (Lark Quartet) Bridge 9379

On This Day


  • 1810 - Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin, in Zelazowa Wola (This is the date Chopin and his friends observed, although the composer's baptismal certificate says he was born on February 22);

  • 1896 - Greek conductor and composer Dimitri Mitropoulos, in Athens;


  • 1643 - Italian composer Girolamo Frescobaldi, age 59, in Rome;

  • 1777 - Austrian composer Georg Christoph Wagenseil, age 62, in Vienna;

  • 1976 - French conductor and composer Jean Martinon, age 66, in Paris;

  • 1980 - American folksinger and folksong collector John Jacob Niles, age 88, near Lexington, Ky.;


  • 1736 - Handel: cantata "Alexander's Feast," Concerto grosso in C (HWV. 318), Harp Concerto, Op. 4, no. 6, and Organ Concerto, Op. 4, no. 1, in London (Julian date: Feb. 19);

  • 1743 - Handel: oratorio "Samson" and possibly the Organ Concerto Op. 7, no. 2, in London (Julian date: Feb. 18);

  • 1950 - Menotti: opera "The Consul," in Philadelphia at the Shubert Theatre; The opera opened in New York City on March 15, 1950, and won that year's Pulitzer Prize for Music;

  • 1950 - Prokofiev: Cello Sonata, Op. 119 (first public performance), at the Moscow Conservatory, by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter; The same artists had given a private performance of the work in Moscow, at the House of the Union of Composers on December 6, 1949;

  • 1958 - Pizzetti: opera "Assassinio della cattedrale" (based on T.S. Eliot's play "Murder in the Cathedral"), at the Teatro della Scala in Milan;

  • 1968 - Andrew Lloyd-Webber: musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" (first version) at Colet Court Prep School in London;

  • 1979 - Broadway premiere of Sondheim: musical "Sweeny Todd";

  • 2003 - Beethoven: "Largo" movement from a lost Oboe Concerto written in 1792, reconstructed by Dutch musicologists Jos van der Zanden and Cees Nieuwenhuizen, by the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra conducted by Conrad van Alphen, with Alexei Ogrintchouk the oboe soloist;


  • 1907 - American premiere of Debussy: "La Mer," by the Boston Symphony, Karl Muck conducting;

  • 1916 - U.S. premiere of Mahler's Symphony No. 8, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®