Composers Datebook®

Music for the birds by Dvořák

Composers Datebook - June 12, 2024


There’s a long list of composers ranging from Vivaldi to Messiaen who have incorporated bird song into their musical works. Today we make note of one of them.

On this date in 1893, great Czech composer Antonín Dvořák was vacationing with his family in Spillville, Iowa, spending the hot summer months with a small Czech community who had settled along the banks of the Turkey River. 

Dvořák liked to walk along the river listening to the birds, who, he said, helped him come up with musical ideas — ideas he would scribble in pencil on his stiff white shirt cuffs. Dvořák’s son, Otakar, eight years old at the time, reports that on June 12, 1893, a fishing trip along the Turkey River was cut short, much to his annoyance. When Otakar asked why, his father said simply: “My cuff is already full of notes — I’ve got to get home and copy them down.”

In less than a week, Dvořák finished what would become one of his best-known and best-loved works — a string quartet in F Major nicknamed the American Quartet. The scherzo movement even includes a musical quotation from a particularly persistent American bird whose song Dvořák found a bit distracting.

Music Played in Today's Program

Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904): String Quartet (American); Vlach Quartet; Naxos 8.553371

On This Day


  • 1885 - German-born American composer Werner Josten, in Elbereld

  • 1897 - Polish-born French composer Alexandre Tansman, in Lodz

  • 1914 - French composer Maurice Ohana, in Casablanca

  • 1941 - American jazz pianist and composer, Chick (Armando Anthony) Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts

  • 1952 - Scottish composer and conductor Oliver Knussen, in Glasgow


  • 1917 - Venezuelan composer, pianist, conductor and singer, (Maria) Teresa Carreño, 63, in New York City

  • 1962 - British composer John Ireland, 82, in Rock Mill, Washington (Sussex), England


  • 1913 - Florent Schmitt: ballet La Tragédie de Salomé (The Tragedy of Salome), at the Théâtre des Champes-Elysées by the Ballet Russe, Pierre Monteux conducting

  • 1917 - Pfitzner: opera Palestrina, in Munich at the Prinzregententheater, with Bruno Walter conducting

  • 1926 - Szymanowski: opera King Roger, in Warsaw at the Teatr Wielki

  • 1928 - European premiere of Stravinsky: ballet Apollon Musagete, at the Sarah Bernhardt Theater in Paris, choreographed by Georges Balanchine. The world premiere performance of this work had occurred in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 1928, choreographed by Adolf Bohm.

  • 1938 - Leonard Bernstein's first public performance as composer-pianist in Brookline, Massachusetts, performing his Music for the Dance Nos. 1 and 2 and Music for Two Pianos with Mildred Spiegel

  • 1946 - Prokofiev: opera War and Peace (first version), in Leningrad

  • 1952 - Bernstein: chamber opera Trouble in Tahiti, at Brandeis University as part of the first Festival of the Creative Arts, with composer conducting

  • 1961 - Martinu: opera The Greek Passion, in Zürich at the Stadttheater

  • 1962 - Mayzumi: symphonic poem Samsara, in Tokyo

  • 1964 - Britten: church opera Curlew River, in Orford Church, near Aldeburgh

  • 1974 - Elie Siegmeister: String Quartet No. 3 (On Hebrew Themes), at Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, by the Vieuxtemps Quartet

  • 1987 - Morton Feldman: For Samuel Beckett, for chamber ensemble, in Amsterdam

  • 2002 - Jennifer Higdon: Concerto for Orchestra, in Philadelphia at the American Symphony Orchestra League National Convention, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting


  • 1933 - The first concert performance of the Duke Ellington Orchestra takes place at the London Palladium during the ensemble’s first visit to England. Previously the orchestra had only performed at night clubs, dance halls, hotels and other “informal” entertainment venues. It would be ten years before Ellington would present a concert performance at Carnegie Hall in New York (on January 23, 1943).

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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®