Bird voices in music

Bird voices in music

Bird voices in musicThe enchanting voices of birds could not escape the attention of music composers. There are many folk songs and academic musical works that reflect the voices of birds.

Bird singing is unusually musical: each species of bird sings its own unique melody, which contains bright intonations, rich ornamentation, sounds in a certain rhythm, tempo, has a unique timbre, various dynamic shades and emotional coloring.

The modest voice of the cuckoo and the lively roulades of the nightingale

French composers of the 18th century who wrote in the Rococo style – L Daquin, F. Couperin, J-F. Rameau was remarkably good at imitating bird voices. In Daken’s harpsichord miniature “Cuckoo,” the cuckooing of a forest dweller is clearly heard in the exquisite, moving, richly embellished sound mass of the musical fabric. One of the movements of Rameau’s harpsichord suite is called “The Hen,” and this author also has a piece called “Roll Call of Birds.”

J-F. Rameau “Roll call of birds”

Rameau (Рамо), Перекличка птиц, Д. Пенюгин, М. Успенская

In the romantic plays of the Norwegian composer of the 19th century. E. Grieg’s “Morning”, “In Spring” imitation of birdsong enhances the idyllic character of the music.

E. Grieg “Morning” from the music to the drama “Peer Gynt”

Эдвард Григ "Пер Гюнт" Утро - Edvard Grieg

The French composer and pianist C. Saint-Saëns composed in 1886 a very nice suite for two pianos and orchestra, called “Carnival of the Animals.” The work was conceived just as a musical joke-surprise for the concert of the famous cellist Ch. Lebouk. To Saint-Saëns’ surprise, the work gained enormous popularity. And today “Carnival of Animals” is perhaps the most famous composition of the brilliant musician.

One of the brightest plays, filled with the good humor of zoological fantasy, is “The Birdhouse”. Here the flute plays the solo role, depicting the sweet chirping of little birds. The graceful flute part is accompanied by strings and two pianos.

C. Saint-Saens “Birdman” from “Carnival of the Animals”

In the works of Russian composers, from the abundance of imitations of bird voices found, the most frequently heard ones can be identified – the sonorous singing of a lark and the virtuoso trills of a nightingale. Music connoisseurs are probably familiar with romances by A.A. Alyabyev “Nightingale”, N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov “Captured by the Rose, the Nightingale”, “Lark” by M.I. Glinka. But, if the French harpsichordists and Saint-Saëns dominated the decorative element in the mentioned musical compositions, then the Russian classics conveyed, first of all, the emotions of a person who turns to a vocal bird, inviting it to empathize with his grief or share his joy.

A. Alyabyev “Nightingale”


In large musical works – operas, symphonies, oratorios, the voices of birds are an integral part of the images of nature. For example, in the second part of L. Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (“Scene by the Stream” – “Bird Trio”) you can hear the singing of a quail (oboe), a nightingale (flute), and a cuckoo (clarinet). In Symphony No. 3 (2 parts “Pleasures”) A.N. Scriabin, the rustling of leaves, the sound of sea waves, is joined by the voices of birds sounding from the flute.

Ornithological composers

Outstanding master of musical landscape N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov, while walking through the forest, recorded the voices of birds with notes and then accurately followed the intonation line of bird singing in the orchestral part of the opera “The Snow Maiden”. The composer himself indicates in the article he wrote about this opera in which section of the work the singing of falcon, magpie, bullfinch, cuckoo and other birds is heard. And the intricate sounds of the handsome Lel’s horn, the hero of the opera, were also born from birdsong.

French composer of the 20th century. O. Messiaen was so in love with bird singing that he considered it unearthly, and called birds “servants of the immaterial spheres.” Having become seriously interested in ornithology, Messiaen worked for many years to create a catalog of bird melodies, which allowed him to widely use imitation of bird voices in his works. “Awakening of the Birds” Messiaen for piano and orchestra – these are the sounds of a summer forest, filled with the singing of the wood lark and blackbird, warbler and whirligig, greeting the dawn.

Refraction of traditions

Representatives of modern music from different countries widely use imitation of birdsong in music and often include direct audio recordings of bird voices in their compositions.

The luxurious instrumental composition “Birdsong” by E. V. Denisov, a Russian composer of the middle of the last century, can be classified as sonoristic. In this composition, sounds of the forest are recorded on tape, bird chirping and trills are heard. Parts of instruments are not written with ordinary notes, but with the help of various signs and figures. Performers freely improvise according to the outline given to them. As a result, an extraordinary sphere of interaction between the voices of nature and the sound of musical instruments is created.

E. Denisov “Birds singing”

Эдисон Денисов - Пение птиц

Contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara created in 1972 a beautiful work called Cantus Arcticus (also called Concerto for Birds and Orchestra), in which an audio recording of the voices of various birds fits harmoniously into the sound of the orchestral part.

E. Rautavaara – Cantus Arcticus

The voices of birds, gentle and sad, sonorous and jubilant, full-bodied and iridescent, will always excite the creative imagination of composers and encourage them to create new musical masterpieces.

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