If animals could write music, can you imagine what kind of music your favorite animal would create? Maybe a frog’s music would sound like chirping or hopping. Maybe a swan’s music would sound smooth and graceful. Maybe a duck’s music would sound like quacking and splashing!
Sometimes composers use their imaginations and write their own music about animals. Let’s listen to some and see what they came up with!
John Dowland, a Renaissance composer, wrote a dance which he called the Frog Galliard. He never wrote down exactly why he chose that title. Maybe you can use your imagination and guess what this dance has to do with frogs!
A German composer from the 1700s named Georg Philipp Telemann wrote a concerto for violin and orchestra which he nicknamed The Frogs. You’ll be able to hear the solo violin imitating croaking frogs in this piece!
Nineteenth-century composer Emmanuel Chabrier wrote a song called the Villanelle of the Little Ducks. This song, which is in French, tells the story of a group of ducks waddling along the side of a river!
Twentieth-century Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote Peter and the Wolf, a musical fairy tale for orchestra in which we get to meet lots of animals, including a waddling, quacking duck! If you like this piece, you should check out the rest of Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf for more music about animals.
This Korean folk song is about a little rabbit hopping away across the mountainside. The song is called San Toki, and here it’s performed by the American musician Elena Moon Park and her friends!
The English composer Angela Morley wrote music for the movie Watership Down in 1978. Watership Down is based on a novel by Richard Adams, about a courageous, adventurous group of rabbits!
The Frolic of the Bears comes from an opera called Treemonisha by American composer Scott Joplin. He composed it in 1911. If you listen carefully, you can hear the bears growling—or are they singing?
This Bear Dance by twentieth-century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók might sound a little scary, but I think the bear is just very absorbed in his mighty dance. Bartók also wrote a version of this piece for piano, especially designed for children to play.
New England Creatures
The American composer Amy Beach wrote a set of three piano pieces in 1932, all about the outside world in New England, where she lived. The first piece in the set is called the “Peterborough Chipmunk”—he’s a scurrying chipmunk from Peterborough, New Hampshire!
The third piece in the set is about one of the tiniest birds in America—the speedy, colorful, hovering hummingbird!
Larks are famous songbirds, so it’s no wonder they’ve inspired plenty of composers. The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote The Lark Ascending in 1914. In this piece, a solo violin represents the soaring, singing lark.
Did you know that a group of larks is called an “exaltation”? English composer Jennifer Higdon thought this was a beautiful fact, and it inspired her to write this piece for string quartet in 2005, called An Exaltation of Larks.
There are quite a lot of swans in classical music: let’s end with two of the most famous examples! Nineteenth-century Russian composer Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky wrote a ballet called Swan Lake about an enchanted swan princess. The ballet includes this “Dance of the Little Swans.”
The nineteenth-century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns wrote a whole suite of music about animals, called The Carnival of the Animals. (If you want to hear more music about animals, you should check it out!) One of the animals we meet at the Carnival is a graceful swan, who is represented by the cello.