Recess 11--We're going to the zoo!

Animals are popular things in music and composers have attempted to portray them in sound for hundreds of years. Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, composers created works called madrigals. These were basically vocal works based around secular texts. One of the most amusing that centers upon the animal kingdom is Contrapunto bestiale alle mente or Animal Counterpoint of the World by Italian composer Adriano Banchieri (1567-1634). It begins with a passage that is common to many madrigals, a section of nonsense syllables like "Fa-la-la-la." Then we arrive at a whole section where animal sounds are imitated, from a cow to dogs and cats. The final section returns to nonsense syllables. Listen!

The great opera composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) was really a card! He was the one who said that the best time to write an overture for an opera was the evening before opening night. He pays tribute to the feline world with his Cat Duet, sung here by Mady Mesplé and Jane Berbié.


The greatest tribute to animals was given by Camille Saint-Saëns in his Carnival of the Animals. Scored for two pianos and orchestra, it portrays such diverse creatures as the lion, jackass, turtle, elephant, kangaroo, mule, birds,a swan, and even pianists (!). The American poet Ogden Nash even went so far as to create humorous verses for each movement and some recordings have featured both his words as well as the musical performance. Here’s a sample of the piece, performed in that fashion with William Shatner (Captain James Tiberius Kirk) and Joan Rivers featured as voices.


By the way, if you’re interested in purchasing a digital download of that recording, Click here.

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