It’s fall, and for classical music that usually means one of two things: the harvest or the hunt. Hunting horns and other hunting-related music creeps in all over the place in music history, and here’s Ether Game’s list of works related to a different kind of game. Happy hunting!
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, String Quartet No. 17 in B-flat Major, “The Hunt”: This is a classic example of the “hunting” musical topic in classical music: up-tempo 6/8 gigue rhythms, trills, drones, and horn fifths—all musical elements associated with the 18th-century hunt. Mozart didn’t provide the title for this work, but it evoked the hunt enough that his publisher did. Mozart did dedicate this work to his colleague Franz Joseph Haydn. It’s one of his “Haydn” Quartets, which he prefaced with the following dedication: “I send my six sons to you, most celebrated and very dear friend…[I] hope that you will not consider them wholly unworthy of your favor.”
- Stanley Myers, “Cavatina” from The Deer Hunter: This lovely guitar melody from the 1978 Oscar-winning film The Deer Hunter was actually written for a different film! Classical guitarist John Williams recorded Myers’s melody for the film The Walking Stick. A version with lyrics was even recorded by singer Cleo Laine in 1973! But when Michael Cimino decided to make it the theme to his film about the harrowing effects of the Vietnam war on small town America, this hauntingly lovely tune really took off. The recording by Williams used in the movie ended up becoming a top 20 hit in the UK.
- Franz Schubert, “Die Jäger” from Die Schöne Müllerin: Hunters show up in a few songs by Franz Schubert, including his song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin. In the cycle, with poetry by Wilhelm Müller, the protagonist falls for a young miller’s daughter, but her affections are directed towards a hunter. The hunter becomes the object of scorn and jealousy for the journeyman.
- Edward Elgar, “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations: Why this famous adagio is titled “Nimrod” is just one of many riddles in this piece by Edward Elgar. Growing up watching Looney Tunes, many of us probably thought “nimrod” was just another insult thrown at the inept Elmer Fudd by the rascally rabbit Bugs Bunny. But Bugs was insulting his hunting ability, because “Nimrod” is a mighty hunter from the Old Testament. In this movement, “Nimrod” refers to Elgar’s friend Augustus Jäger, the editor from his publishing company. “Jäger” is German for “hunter,” hence the nickname.
- César Franck, The Accursed Huntsman: In this tone poem, based on a real poem German poet Gottfried August Bürger, blue laws are apparently enforced by the Devil himself. It tells the story of a Count who wants to go hunting on a Sunday, despite the peals of church bells in the distance. Instead of keeping holy the Sabbath, he sounds his hunting horn in defiance. Once deep into the woods, the tables are turned on the Count—he becomes the victim of the hunt, only the hunter is the Devil, damning his soul to be pursued by demons for all eternity.
- Benjamin Britten, Our Hunting Fathers: Britten often referred to his song cycle Our Hunting Fathers as “his real opus one.” The English poet W.H. Auden, who would become an important friend and artistic partner to Britten, wrote the texts to the work’s prologue and epilogue, and adapted the remaining poems. This may be one of the few musical works about hunting that vilifies rather than glorifies the sport. It grew out of a piece Britten wrote in his youth about animals, and evolved into an allegory on the brutality of the bloodsport leading directly to the horrors of war. Both Britten and Auden had pacifist tendencies, and there’s no doubt that the looming European war in the 1930s contributed to the creation of this anti-war song cycle.
- Jean Sibelius, Finnish Jäger March: Sibelius composed his Finnish Jäger March in 1917 when Finland had already become embroiled in a bloody conflict with the Russian Empire. The Jäger March included words written by Heikki Nurmo, a member of a group a Finnish volunteer infantrymen who secretly trained in Germany as foot soldiers before returning to fight in Finland. The German army referred to these soldiers as “Jäger” (that’s German for “hunter”), and secretly funded Jäger battalions across Finland as part of its greater effort to destabilize Russia at the outset of the first World War. Nurmo’s lyrics were smuggled into Finland for Sibelius, who set them for men’s chorus and symphony orchestra.
And just for fun….
- Duran Duran, Hungry Like The Wolf: The manager for the English new-wave synth band Duran Duran suggested that the group create videos to accompany their songs to play at night clubs equipped with video projectors. Little did they know a new cable channel called MTV was emerging that would create an entire market for these new music videos. Duran Duran got in at the ground floor, and their arresting visuals and the bands’ good looks made their videos staples on MTV in the early years. The music video for “Hungry Like The Wolf”—featuring lead singer Simon LeBon “hunting” a woman like an animal in the Sri Lankan jungle—won the very first Grammy Award ever for Best Short Form Music Video.