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Harmonia Early Music

Outdoor Oddities: Rustic Instruments and Birdcalls

Rustic musical instruments and compositions in imitation of birds.

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man holding a hurdy gurdy

Photo: Bernard Gordillo

Robert Green playing an original French baroque hurdy-gurdy built by Francois Feury (Paris, 1752).

In 17th- and 18th-century Europe, composers turned to nature in search of musical novelty. One such individual was Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, a prolific French baroque composer and one of a few who made a living entirely outside the courtly world of Versailles. Le Concert Spirituel recorded his instrumental “ballet” for hurdy-gurdy, musette, winds and strings on the Naxos release entitled Ballets de village.

Another rustic instrument from the French baroque was the bagpipe, or “musette.” Duets for two musettes were a popular among amateur musicians in early 18th-century France. Jean-Christophe Maillard and Jean-Pierre van Hees perform “Les Impromptus de Fountainebleau” on the release, Oeuvres pour Musette.

Music composed in imitation of bird calls has been around for centuries. Perhaps the most famous example can be found in Handel’s “L’Allegro.” The King’s Consort performs “Sweet Bird,” on their Hyperion release entitled L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato.
Another bird song frequently imitated is that of the nightingale. Jacob van Eyck wrote a work entitled “Engels Nachtegaeltie,” performed by recorder player Dan Laurin on the BIS release, Der Fluyten Lusthof.

Even Antonio Vivaldi wrote music in imitation of birds. His concerto, “Il Gardellino,” exists in no less than two versions. The first was  scored for chamber ensemble comprised of flute, violin, and basso continuo. Janet See performs this version on the Harmonia Mundi release Vivaldi Flute Concertos (accompanied by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra).

Music Heard On This Episode

Boismortier: Cinquieme gentillesse
Concert Spirituel / Herve Niquet — Boismortier: Ballets de Village/Sérénade (Naxos, 2000)
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Boismortier: Cinquieme gentillesse
Concert Spirituel / Herve Niquet — Boismortier: Ballets de Village/Sérénade (Naxos, 2000)
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Boismortier: Premier Ballet
Concert Spirituel / Herve Niquet — Boismortier: Ballets de Village/Sérénade (Naxos, 2000)
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Jacques Ibert: Premiere Amusette
Anna Marsh, baroque bassoon / Rob Green, hurdy gurdy — Anna Marsh, Graduate Recital (N/A, 1995)
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Nicolas Chedeville de Cadet: Les Impromptus de Fontainebleau
Les Festes Galantes / Jean-Christophe Maillard, Jean-Pierre van Hees — Oeuvres pour Musette (Valois, 1993)
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G. F. Handel: Sweet Bird
King’s Consort — Handel: L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (Hyperion, 1999)
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Jacob van Eyck: Engels Nachtegaeltie
Dan Laurin, recorder — Jacob van Eyck: Der Fluyten Lusthof (BIS, 1999)
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Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto Il gardellino
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra — Antonio Vivaldi: Flute Concertos (Harmonia Mundi, 2002)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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