The Full Works Concert – Friday 31 May: Musical Birds

Tonight's Evening Concert takes flight with a selection of musical birds - from Vaughan Williams' famous Lark Ascending to a dove from Dvorak.

All of Jane's works tonight have one thing in common - they are all inspired by feathered creatures.

Rossini's overture for The Thieving Magpie opens the concert. The opera tells the story of a servant accused of stealing a silver spoon but, at the last minute, his master's magpie is found to be the true culprit. The title is a bit of a spoiler for the mystery really. The opera was premiered on this day in 1817.

Handel went for a more literal approach to emulating birds in musical language. In the second movement of his Organ Concerto No.13 in F, the composer attempts to imitate birdsong in the upper registers of the solo instrument. The birdsong gives the whole piece its nickname, 'The Cuckoo and the Nightingale'.

Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending is one of the nation's favourite pieces of classical music, coming second in the 2013 Classic FM Hall of Fame. Written in 1914, The Lark Ascending is a serene evocation of an innocent bird rising over the rolling English countryside to ever loftier heights.

With his 1927 composition The Birds, Italian composer Ottorino Respighi followed in Handel's footsteps and tried to transcribe birdsong into music. The work has five sections: Prelude, The Dove, The Hen, The Nightingale and The Cuckoo.

The Swan of Tuonela is an 1895 tone poem by Sibelius, which conjures up the sublime image of a mystical swan swimming around the island of the dead. Disney planned to use the piece in a segment of Fantasia. It was mapped out but never made it into the final film.

A couple of blue birds follow on the concert tonight. Charles Villiers Stanford's beautiful The Blue Bird is a setting of a short poem by Mary Coleridge while Engelbert Humperdinck, composed his for a 1908 play by the Belgian author Maurice Maeterlinck. It tells the story of a brother and sister who are seeking the Blue Bird of Happiness, aided by a good fairy. 

The Wood Dove is an orchestral poem by Dvorak. It tells the story of a woman who poisoned her husband and married another man shortly afterwards. A dove then sits on the grave of her dead husband and sings a sad song day after day. Driven to despair, the wife jumps into a river and drowns.

Jane's last bird of the evening is actually a Byrd. William Byrd. His inventive five-part Nunc dimittis was composed for the Mass of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which falls on 2 February.


Gioachino Rossini: The Thieving Magpie – Overture
Carlo Rizzi conducts the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

George Frideric Handel: Organ Concerto in F major (‘Cuckoo and the Nightingale’)
Organ: Simon Preston
Trevor Pinnock conducts the English Concert

Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
Violin: Lyn Fletcher
Mark Elder conducts the Halle Orchestra

Ottorino Respighi: The Birds
Claudio Scimone conducts I Solisti Veneti

Jean Sibelius: The Swan of Tuonela
Cor Anglais: Lawrence Thorstenberg
Colin Davis conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Charles Villiers Stanford: The Blue Bird
Edward Higginbottom conducts the Choir of New College, Oxford

Engelbert Humperdinck: The Blue Bird
Karl Anton Rickenbacher conducts the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

Antonin Dvorak: The Wood-Dove
Neeme Jarvi conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

William Byrd: Nunc Dimittis
Stile Antico