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What our musical heritage owes to birdsong

In Siegfried, Richard Wagner loses his hero, whose strength is matched only by ignorance, in a mysterious forest whose whispers he does not understand. It is the song of a bird that will guide the young man towards his destiny and the beautiful sleeping Valkyrie awaiting his kiss. This poetic and wise bird is not the only one, far from it, to populate the musical aviary which, for centuries, has made the repertoire resonate with its trills and coos.

→ READ. A couple of musicians committed to reverie and beauty

We have been thinking about deepening the links between music and nature and more particularly with birds for a long time.confides Florence Bolton, gambist and artistic director, with the lutenist Benjamin Perrot, of the ensemble La Rêveuse. I believe that the confinement that pushed us to look at the sky from our house and to listen more attentively to the surrounding noises allowed this desire to come to life. »

The two artists are more particularly attached to the XVIIIand century when the aesthetics of imitation flourished. “Sounds can paint anything capable of making noise: thunder, winds, the roaring of the sea, the noise of donkeys, the melodious song of birds, the cries of animals”, wrote d’Alembert in 1753 (1). So of Hello of Daquin, of nightingale in love chez Rameau or, of the eagle, the lark and the woodpigeon summoned by Joseph Haydn in his Creation.

Teaching Tunes to Birds

Less known, no doubt, the “reverse” practice which, in the 18and century always wanted to teach the winged people the music composed by men. “We invented specific instruments like the flageolet of birds with a very high rangeexplains Florence Bolton. During our research, we have, for example, “met” Jean-Claude Hervieux de Chanteloup who wrote treatises on “the canaries of Canarie” of which he was the governor to the Princess of Condé. »

Picturesque no doubt, this fashion also makes us aware of the instrumentalization of birds to entertain good society but also of the financial speculation attached to the most virtuoso of these volatile scholars who were very expensive. “However, it is said that the most gifted could hardly learn more than three or four different tunes and that, as the composer Grétry teaches us in his Memoirsthe modulations put them in difficulty…”shade Florence Bolton.

The divine nightingale

The artistic director of La Rêveuse emphasizes the privileged place occupied by the nightingale. It fascinates by the contrast between its very modest plumage, “not particularly pretty”, and the spells of its nocturnal warbling. in the tale The Nightingale and the Emperor, Andersen compares the limited merits of a mechanical bird, however perfected, to those of an animal of flesh and blood which remains unpredictable and surprising. Igor Stravinsky was inspired by it in 1909 in his bewitching opera The Nightingale.

Today, Florence Bolton and Benjamin Perrot have invited singer and composer Vincent Bouchot to write a piece for young audiences. She calls on the Japanese flautist Kôske Nozaki who plays the bird’s flageolet with incredible dexterity while this very small instrument is extremely difficultdevilish ». To visually crown the enchantment, puppeteer Cécile Hurbault draws on her practice of oriental shadow theatre.

Listen to nature

A more traditional concert bringing together pieces by Purcell, Couperin, Rameau, but also Saint-Saëns and Ravel, and a cycle of meetings, conferences in music and cultural actions, complete this vast journey around birds. “I am delighted with the success we are having with programmers who usually rarely open their rooms to classical musicassures Florence Bolton. The current concerns around the living, our lost links with nature are probably not foreign to this.»

→ PORTRAIT. Cosmo Sheldrake, a rare bird

Already, Claude Debussy expressed the wish for a finer attention to the world around us: “We don’t listen to the thousand sounds of nature around us, we don’t listen enough to this varied music that it offers us in such abundance. It envelops us, and we have lived in the midst of it until now without realizing it. » (2)


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