Showcase March-April 2015 - page 38

January 1956.
Exotic Birds
is based on birdcalls from
India, China, Malaysia and North and South America,
with the vast majority—38—coming from North
America. Among these are the calls of the California
quail, Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager, meadowlark and
American robin. The composer was so careful about
accuracy that he listed all the birds and their Latin names
in a preface to the score and marked the song of each
individual bird within the score.
It would not have mattered to Messiaen that in combining
the songs of birds from Asia and the Americas, he had
produced something that could never occur in nature:
all birds came from God, and he was interested in the
brilliance of the combinations of their songs. In the score
he reminds performers of the importance of color in this
music: “[conductors and pianists] should not forget that
this work is highly colored; it contains all the colors of the
rainbow, including red, that color especially associated
with hot countries—the color of the American bird known
as the ‘cardinal.’ ”
Messiaen scores
Exotic Birds
for piano and what he called
a “small orchestra” of 18 players. The score is unusual in
that it eliminates all strings and instead consists of eight
woodwinds, three brass, plus glockenspiel, xylophone and
percussion. All of these are arranged precisely on the stage
to project the sound exactly as Messiaen wanted it heard.
the music
From the swoop of the Indian myna bird that opens
to the chattering cry of the White-Crested laughing
thrush of the Himalayas at the close, this music is full of
the joyful sound of birds. One can happily sit back and
enjoy the many birdsongs, listening for the brilliance of
the colors and riding along the waves of complex rhythms.
This music makes virtuoso demands on its performers,
particularly on the pianist, who has five brief cadenzas
along the way, each scrupulously based on the call of
particular bird. Bird lovers may take particular pleasure in
identifying the calls of specific birds—but the color, energy
and joy of this music are captivating for all listeners.
solo piano with orchestra comprising
piccolo, flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet,
bass clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet,
glockenspiel, 3 gongs, snare drum, tam-tam,
temple blocks, woodblocks and xylophone
The orchestra’s quiet introductory chords set the mood,
and the violin takes wing with a long cadenza that
outlines the shape of the main theme, which it will
then sing as the orchestra returns. The music proceeds,
gradually growing faster. Vaughan Williams’ markings
specify exactly the kind of performance he wants: the
music moves first to
Allegretto tranquillo
and eventually
Allegro tranquillo
, the speeds relaxing. The
opening tempo returns, the orchestra fades out and the
final word is left to the violinist as this lovely music soars
high and far away.
solo violin with orchestra
comprising 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets,
2 bassoons, 2 horns, triangle and strings
Olivier Messiaen
December 10, 1908, Avignon, France
April 28, 1992, Paris
Exotic Birds
livier Messiaen was fascinated by birds and birdsong
throughout his life. His second wife, Yvonne Loriod,
recalled a story from the composer himself: “[Messiaen]
was 18 months old, and being pushed in a pram by his
mother, when a bird began to sing, and he immediately
threw down his bottle and raised his hand to tell his
mother to be quiet and listen to the bird.”
birds, singers of God’s glory
Later Messiaen would travel throughout the world, notating
and recording the songs of birds, and birdsong would
remain an important part of his music across the span of his
career. So passionate was he about hearing new birdsong
that he would sometimes sleep in barns so that he could
hear the morning song of birds. Yvonne Loriod noted that
birdsong had a religious significance for him: “Messiaen
always used to say, ‘I was born a believer,’ and never at any
point in his life did he have a shadow of doubt. And birds
were for him master musicians who sang to the glory of
God, and he himself wanted to sing as they do.”
In 1955 Pierre Boulez commissioned a work from
his former teacher, and Messiaen composed
, or
Exotic Birds
, between October 1955 and
Program Notes
2, 3, 4
1...,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37 39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,...64
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