Composers listen to the world around them and sometimes incorporate the sounds they hear into the music that they write.
In 1723, Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi wrote a piece called The Four Seasons. The Four Seasons is made up of four concertos for violin and orchestra (concerto is a musical composition where a solo instrument, in this case the violin, plays with the orchestra backing them up). The concertos that make up The Four Seasons are titled Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Each concerto musically portrays sounds and feelings you might hear and feel during that season. Listen to the first movement of Spring. In this movement, Vivaldi specifically imitates three sounds that you might hear in the springtime. Can you guess what they are? (YouTube recording, beginning to 3:15)
Bohemian-Austrian composer Heinrich Biber made the violin sound like animals in his Sonata Representativa, composed in 1669. Listen and compare the violin imitations with the real animal sounds (Introduction, The Nightingale 1:50, Musical Bridge 2:35, Cuckoo 3:12, Bridge 3:36, Frog 3:54, Bridge 4:37, The Hen and the rooster 5:05, Bridge 5:27, The Quail 5:40, Bridge 6:03, Cat 6:22, Soldier’s March 6:48, Conclusion 8:00)
Here are some other compositions that have been inspired by sounds:
Sergei Prokofiev Cinderella, Op. 87
This is from Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella. Do you know the story of Cinderella? What happens at midnight? What sound does the music imitate? (YouTube recording)
Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Flight of the Bumblebee (YouTube recording)
Train Sound Music Composition
American Composer Leroy Anderson’s Typewriter (music starts at 1:35)
Art That Sounds!
Of course we are all used to looking at paintings, but have you ever listened to one? Painters paint sound too. Sometimes the paintings are so vivid we can almost hear the sounds in our imagination! What do you hear in these paintings? Is the sound loud or soft, gentle or strong?
Francisco Goya: The Snowstorm
Walter Batiss: Bird, Monkey and Woman
Marc Chagall: Fiddler with Ruster
Tadashi Nakayama: Neighing Horses
Friedensreich Hundertwasser: The Endless Way to You
Gustave Caillebotte: The Yerres, Rain
Albert Bloch: Windy Night Sky
Otto Dix: Baby with Umbilical Cord
One of my favorite pieces of all time is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral.” Beethoven loved nature and hiking and titled this piece, “Pastoral Symphony: Recollections of Country Life.” Each movement is a different scene. Pick a movement and listen to it, drawing the scene you hear. Pretend you are seeing and drawing the countryside through Beethoven’s eyes!
- Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside
- Scene by the brook
- Merry gathering of country folk
- Shepherd’s Song; Happy and thankful feelings after the storm