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Just Catting Around

Sit, stay, good dog! This week on Harmonia, our furry and feathered friends are taking center stage.

Cat

Photo: Angela Mariani

Angela Mariani's cat, Sam, demonstrates the art of "just catting around."

Sit, stay, good dog! This hour on Harmonia, our furry and feathered friends are taking center stage. We’ll explore early music for, about, and maybe even by our favorite domestic animals. Plus, our featured release– the recording French Troubadour Songs, performed by Paul Hillier & Andrew Lawrence-King.


Paul Hillier sang a troubadour song with the title “The Lord is like the pelican,” referencing the legend of the pelican who in a time of famine wounded herself to feed her young with her own blood. The CD is called French Troubadour Songs.


The Cat’s Meow

Can you picture a cat straying across your piano? We’re not sure if Domenico Scarlatti had cats of his own, but his short fugue in G Minor must have conjured this image in the mind of Scarlatti’s fan, keyboard player Muzio Clementi, who dubbed this piece “The Cat’s Fugue.”

We heard “The Cat’s Fugue,” by Domenico Scarlatti, performed by harpsichordist Elaine Comparone.

After your cat is done walking along your keyboard, he might want to get outside and explore the garden. Next, we’ll hear songs from the Glogauer Liederbuch, a songbook of sacred and secular music from the end of the fifteenth century. First, “Der Katzenpfote”; and then, “La Martinella,” the snail, in which we may imagine the cat peering over curiously at the snail.

We heard “La Martinella,” or “The Snail,” and before that, “Der Katzenpfote,” or “The Cat’s Paw,” music from the Glogauer Liederbuch, performed by the Wiener Blockflötenensemble on their 1987 recording Musik der Renaissance. 


The Barking Dog

Antonio Vivaldi’s collection The Four Seasons contains some of the most recognizable classical pieces in the world. These violin concertos, four in total, are each named after a season: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Modern audiences adore these works for their energy, creativity, and programmatic nature. However, violists everywhere love this piece for another, very specific reason: in the middle movement of “Spring,” which we’ll hear in a moment, they get the opportunity to play the role of the barking dog. Listen for the serene bed of soft strings interrupted by the barking dog played, naturally, by the viola.

We heard the “barking dog” section of “Spring,” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, performed by the Academy of Ancient Music, with Christopher Hirons, violin soloist.

Oftentimes, we come to associate different instruments with different animals. While the viola might not be the first instrument that comes to mind when you think of a barking dog, a lot of people would associate the sound of a flute or a recorder with the sweet music of a bird chirping. However, here, the recorder takes on the role of the dog, as the Wiener Blockflötenensemble performs Heinrich Isaac’s “Der Hund.”

That was “Der Hund” by Heinrich Isaac. We heard the Wiener Blockflötenensemble, from the 1987 Tudor release Musik der Renaissance.


Throwing It to the Birds

The Medieval trouvère Gace Brulé wrote, “Qui est plus noble, oyseaux ou chiens?” “Which is nobler: birds or dogs?” You’ve heard from the dogs, now it is time to hear music for the birds.

George Friderich Handel often depicts birds in his music. His Keyboard Concerto No. 13 in F Major, is subtitled “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale.” Listen for the solo passage in the organ, in which you can hear the interval of a descending third that is associated with the cuckoo. After the orchestra responds with the opening thematic material, the organ continues with another solo passage, this time presenting the warbling gesture associated with nightingales.”

That was Handel’s organ concerto in F major, sub-titled “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale.” Simon Preston was the organist, with the English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock.

Baroque composers didn’t just imitate birds in small musical gestures, but also named whole genres after them. The quick and somewhat suggestive dance known as the canario, or “canary,” was popular throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Perhaps its its rapid steps resemble the energetic movements of that little yellow bird, with some hopping and foot-stomping thrown for good measure. Here is a canario by Gaspar Sanz, performed by Chatham Baroque.


French Troubadour Songs

Our featured release this week also pays homage to our feathery friends. Singer Paul Hillier and virtuoso harpist and keyboardist Andrew Lawrence-King partner on this recording to bring us mystical sounds from medieval France. Troubadour songs were famous not only for their elegant expressions of courtly love, but also for their sometimes heartbreaking themes of loss and longing. We’ll hear “Les oxelés de mon païx,” or “The birds of my native land.”

We heard “Les oxelés de mon païx,” or “The birds from my native land,” by twelfth century French trouvère Gace Brulé.

On our featured release, “French Troubadour Songs,” organist Andrew Lawrence-King treats the listener to improvised accompaniment in the style of the late medieval period. Let’s take to the skies again with another troubadour song, whose title translates to “In May, when the nightingales sing clear.”

That was “En mai, quant il rossignolez,” or “In May, when the nightingales sing clear,” by the thirteenth century trouvère Colin Muset. We heard singer Paul Hillier and organist Andrew Lawrence-King, from our featured release French Troubadour Songs.


Break and theme music

:30, Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, The Academy of Ancient Music, Decca 1998, Tr. 11 II. Largo

:60, Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, The Academy of Ancient Music, Decca 1998, Tr. 1 I. Allegro 

:30, Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, The Academy of Ancient Music, Decca 1998, Tr. 12 III. Allegro 

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia is Sarah Huebsch.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.

Music Heard On This Episode

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Sarah Huebsch

Sarah Huebsch , DM, performs on period oboes throughout North America. Sarah holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and Indiana University. She started writing for Harmonia in May 2016.

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