Carnival of the Animals Music Unit Study
Many composers over the centuries have written music to emulate animal sounds. There is so much inspiration in the animal world!
Peter and the Wolf, by Sergei Prokofiev, is the classic tale told in both text and music. Each character has its own instrument(s) and theme.
The character Papageno is a bird catcher who looks somewhat like the birds he loves. In Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), Papageno has a wonderful little song (“Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja”) he sings about himself. Can you hear the bird calls? How many do you hear?
- Simon Keenlyside, baritone (The song ends at about 2:45 and is followed by some dialogue. This recording has English subtitles so you can see the translation.)
- Hermann Prey, baritone (live recording)
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee was originally written as an orchestral interlude for an opera, but has been arranged over and over again for different solo instruments and instrument combinations. Listen to these different versions. Discuss the challenges inherent in each one.
- Itzhak Perlman on violin
- Duetto buffo di due gatti (Duet of two cats), by Rossini, is a humorous duet for two female singers sparring (as cats, of course). How does the composer highlight the element of conflict for the two singers?
Erlkonig, by Franz Schubert, is an art song about the legendary ErlKing. The singer plays the parts of the narrator, father, dying son, and the Erlkonig himself as he seeks to take the boy into death. The piano is the galloping horse throughout the song. Can you hear the singer change his vocal tone and expression for each character? Here is the text of the poem, which is by Goethe.
- Here is an interpretation by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
- Here is another by Anne Sophie von Otter
- Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells, from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. What characteristics do Mussorgsky’s chickens share with Saint Saens’? How are they different?
Program music is music that tells a story, or is associated specifically with something outside the music (a painting, character or event). Carnival of the Animals is obviously wonderfully-composed program music. Absolute music, in contrast, is music that was simply written for its own sake, without trying to express anything but the music itself. In visual art, paintings, drawings or sculpture that do not try to represent something specific are called “abstract”. In addition to the programmatic music linked above, here are some others:
- Symphonie Fantastique “March to the Scaffold”
- Vivaldi “4 Seasons”- Winter
- Holst “The Planets”- Mars, the Bringer of War
- Eric Whitacre “Cloudburst” Listen to the storm toward the middle and end of this piece.
- Beethoven Symphony #6, mvt. 4 “Storm”
- Copland, “Hoedown” from “Rodeo”
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