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Is Birdsong Music?

Tom Service asks how birdsong has inspired and equipped human music over the years. With sound recordist Bernie Krause, Messiaen scholar Delphine Evans and naturalist Stephen Moss.

Birdsong has fascinated composers for centuries, but is it really music as we understand it? Tom Service asks how birdsong has inspired and equipped human music over the years. He listens to music inspired by birdsong, made up from elements of birdsong and performed alongside birdsong - why does it have such a deep effect on the human psyche and how have the sounds of the natural world informed the development of human music?

With contributions from sound recordist, musician and ecologist Bernie Krause, Messiaen scholar Delphine Evans and naturalist Stephen Moss. Also archive material from Ludwig Koch, the pioneering sound recordist who made the first documented recording of a bird as an 8 year old in 1889.

Rethink Music, with The Listening Service.

Each week, Tom aims to open our ears to different ways of imagining a musical idea, a work, or a musical conundrum, on the premise that "to listen" is a decidedly active verb.

How does music connect with us, make us feel that gamut of sensations from the fiercely passionate to the rationally intellectual, from the expressively poetic to the overwhelmingly visceral? What's happening in the pieces we love that takes us on that emotional rollercoaster? And what's going on in our brains when we hear them?

When we listen - really listen - we're not just attending to the way that songs, symphonies, and string quartets work as collections of notes and melodies. We're also creating meanings and connections that reverberate powerfully with other worlds of ideas, of history and culture, as well as the widest range of musical genres. We're engaging the world with our ears. The Listening Service aims to help make those connections, to listen actively.

Available now

34 minutes

Music Played

  • BBC Archive Recording

    Dawn Chorus

  • Field Recording

    Nightingale

    • Wildsounds.
  • Field Recording

    Blackbird

    • Wildsounds.
  • BBC Archive Recording

    Starling

    • Essential Seasonal Birdsong.
    • BBC.
  • BBC Archive Recording

    Skylark

  • anon

    Sumer is icumen in

    Performer: The Dufay Collective.
    • Dufay Collective - Medieval Music - Miri It Is.
    • Chandos.
  • Field Recording

    Cuckoo

    • Wildsounds.
  • Louis-Claude Daquin

    Suite for harpsichord no. 3 in E minor, no.1; Le Coucou

    Performer: Trevor Pinnock.
    • The Harmonious Blacksmith.
    • Archiv.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven

    Symphony no. 6 (Op. 68) in F major "Pastoral" 2nd mvt, Szene am Bach

    Performer: Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Performer: Sir John Eliot Gardiner.
    • 9 Symphonies.
    • Archiv.
  • Gustav Mahler

    Symphony No. 1: 1st movement

    Performer: Bavarian Radio SO. Performer: Rafael Kubelík.
    • Mahler: Symphony No.1/Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.
    • DG.
  • Luigi Boccherini

    Quintetto VI in D major, G 276 “L’Ucelliera” - 2nd movt : Allegro giusto

    Performer: La magnifica comunità.
    • Boccherini: String Quintets Op. 10, 11, 13.
    • Brilliant Classics.
  • Clément Janequin

    Le Chant des Oiseaux

    Performer: Ensemble Clément Janequin.
    • Le Chant Des Oyseaulx.
    • HMC.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams

    The Lark ascending for violin and orchestra

    Performer: Tasmin Little. Performer: BBC Symphony Orchestra. Performer: Sir Andrew Davis.
    • The Nine Symphonies.
    • Warner.
  • Ottorino Respighi

    The Pines of Rome: The Pines of the Janiculum

    Performer: Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Performer: Charles Dutoit.
    • THE DECCA SOUND - DUTOIT · MONTRÉAL.
    • Decca.
  • Einojuhani Rautavaara

    Cantus Arcticus

    Performer: Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Performer: Hannu Lintu.
    • Cantus Arcticus / Piano Concerto No. 1 / Symphony No. 3.
    • Naxos.
  • Olivier Messiaen

    Petites esquisses d’Oiseaux; Le rouge gorge

    Performer: Peter Hill.
    • Unicorn.
  • Olivier Messiaen

    St Francis of Assissi - Act 2 Le Preche aux oiseaux

    Performer: Orchestra of The Turin Opera. Performer: Seiji Szawa.
    • Cybelia.
  • Olivier Messiaen

    Chronochromie - VI Epode

    Performer: BBC Symphony Orchestra. Performer: Antal Doráti.
    • EMI.
  • Olivier Messiaen

    Oiseaux Exotiques

    Performer: Ensemble intercontemporain. Performer: Pierre Boulez.
    • Disques Montaigne.
  • Olivier Messiaen

    Cataloge d’Oiseaux - La Bouscarle

    Performer: Yvonne Loriod.
    • Catalogue d'oiseaux; La fauvette des jardins.
    • Erato.
  • Olivier Messiaen

    Cataloge d’Oiseaux - Le Courlis cendré

    Performer: Yvonne Loriod.
    • Catalogue d'oiseaux; La fauvette des jardins.
    • Erato.
  • Phil Riddett

    British Wren

    • Secret Songs Of Birds: The Hidden Beauty Of Birdsong Revealed.
    • British Library.
  • Ludwig Koch

    Wax cylinder recording of Indian shama (1889)

    • BBC Archive Recording.
  • Ludwig Koch

    Wax cylinder recording of blackbird (1901)

    • BBC Archive Recording.
  • Ludwig Koch

    Recording Bitterns

    • BBC Archive Recording.
  • Jim Fassett

    Symphony of the Birds - 1st movt : Andante e lirico

    • Symphony of the Birds.
    • EM Records.
  • Richard Savage

    Goldcrest

    • Secret Songs Of Birds: The Hidden Beauty Of Birdsong Revealed.
    • British Library.
  • Richard Blackford and Bernie Krause

    The Great Animal Orchestra - 1. Introduction and Tuning

    Performer: BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Performer: Martyn Brabbins.
    • The Great Animal Orchestra.
    • Nimbus.
  • Jonathan Harvey

    Bird Concerto with Pianosong

    Performer: London Sinfonietta. Performer: Hidéki Nagano. Performer: David Atherton.
    • Jonathan Harvey: Bird Concerto with Pianosong.
    • NMC.

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