Cats in Classical Music

Today may be International Cat Day, but let’s be honest, every day is worth celebrating our beloved felines. As it turns out, humans have been celebrating cats for thousands of years. For example, did you know that cats were not only cherished in Ancient Egypt but also thought to represent powerful deities and provide good luck?  

Classical composers also have a long history of expressing their love of cats through their music. These kitty companions not only inspired friendship with their human counterparts but also a wide variety of songs. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorites below. Snuggle up with your kitties, and let’s dive in!

“The Monk and His Cat” by Samuel Barber

“The Monk and His Cat” is an incredibly sweet account of the daily routine of a Medieval Irish monk and his kitty cohabitator, Pangur. In this song, the narrator compares how he and his cat enjoy different activities together. Ultimately, the narrator decides, “how happy we are, alone together, scholar and cat.” You can read the full poem here. Can you hear Pangur scampering up the piano keys during the musical interludes?

Orange tabby cat

Biggie Smeowls

Russian blue cat laying in a sunbeam

Tiny Danzy

These purrfect cats live with ICAN’s Program Manager, Host, and Producer, Sarah Zwinklis.

Sonata in g minor, K. 30, “Cat Fugue” by Domenico Scarlatti

Did you know that Domenico Scarlatti didn’t actually name his Sonata in g minor the “cat fugue?” This nickname was introduced a few decades later to characterize the music. The seemingly random steps and odd intervals sound like a cat walking across the keys. That being said, Scarlatti did have a cat named Pulcinella, so it is possible that this fugue had feline inspiration after all! Speaking of Pulcinella, here’s a fun book about the famous musical cat.   

Long-haired black cat sitting in a sunbeam

Effie likes to sunbathe in the home of All Classical Portland’s Development Associate & Grants Manager, Riley Dillard.

“Meowed duet” from The Child and the Spells by Maurice Ravel

The child and the Spells is an opera about a mischievous child who mistreats the plants, animals, and objects around his home. To the child’s surprise, the beings and objects he mistreats begin to talk and reprimand the child for his behavior, including the two cats in this duet. Fun fact – Ravel, the composer of the opera, was a known cat lover and lived with a family of Siamese cats. Do you think his own cats inspired this scene of the opera?

John Pitman working at his computer with a black and white cat sitting on his lap and a black cat sitting on his desk

John Pitman, All Classical Portland’s Director of Music and Programming, hard at work with his kitty helpers, Luigi and Mario.

“The Cat and the Mouse” by Heitor Villa-Lobos

This song for solo piano illustrates the spryness and quick footedness of a cat chasing a mouse. You can sense the action of the scene by the periodic pauses in the piano between musical phrases. Interestingly, Villa-Lobos wasn’t known for his piano skills (his preferred instrument was the cello). Nonetheless, his compositions for piano are among his most popular today.

Brown tabby cat sitting next to turntable

Ghost serves as resident DJ at the home of Rebecca Richardson, All Classical Portland’s Music Researcher and Digital Producer.

“Gato” by Alberto Ginastera

In addition to being the name of a beloved animal, “gato” is also a style of popular folk dance from Argentina. The subject matter of these “cat” songs is typically humorous and full of double-meaning. This song may not directly be about a cat, but we can imagine that the cleverness and captivating nature of the dance style were influenced by its animal namesake. This song often ends in wild applause in performance because of the difficulty of the piano accompaniment. You can find the English translation of the song text here.

This furocious tiger named Duke lives with All Classical Portland’s Marketing Manager, Josh Espinoza.

“Funny Duet for Cats” by Gioachino Rossini

The title of this duet sums up its contents pretty well! Using lyrics consisting entirely of “meows,” two cats mimic operatic divas showing off their vocal prowess, each hoping to outdo the other. This duet is very popular as an encore for voice recitals. Although this song is attributed to the composer, Rossini, it probably wasn’t written by him. The cat duet does, however, use melodies from Rossini’s opera, Othello.

Want to listen to these pieces all in one place? Check out our Cats in Classical Music playlist on Spotify. The playlist even has a few bonus cat-inspired songs!