Messiaen includes a written account of his birdsong collecting tour in the preface to each movement of the Catalog. Read as a quasi-ethnographic account of the ecology around him, the prefaces can also be interpreted as a type of narrative. This episode explores the place and birds of the first movement of the Catalog, followed by a union of Messiaen’s written account with a musical performance of “Le Chocard des Alpes” (The Alpine Chough). Guest: Mark Berres, ornithologist.
Music history is full of examples of composers who used environmental sounds in their works, notably Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, in which he uses Western instruments to mimic the sounds of three different species of birds. In the 20th century, composers were able to use recordings of natural sound in their works, but not without problematic entanglements. Guest Craig Eley discusses the connections between recorded sound and environmentalism. Musical performance: Le Merle Noir for flute and piano.
How does one translate sounds of the forest to the manuscript page, or even describe a natural sound in language? Do Messiaen’s transcriptions succeed? Guests: Mark Berres, ornithologist, and Steve Dembski, composer. Musical performance: “L’alouette Lulu” (Song of the Woodlark) from the Catalog.
An introduction to Olivier Messiaen’s epic, seven-volume work around birds in the composer’s homeland of France. Special guest: Todd Welbourne, pianist. Musical performance: “Le Courlis Cendre” (The Curlew), Book 7 of the Catalog.