- 13 June, 2014
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While each November in America sees the Presidential Thanksgiving Reprieve (an annual symbolic stay of execution for a live turkey by the incumbent US president), June is National Turkey Lovers’ Month, dedicated to one of nature’s less appreciated creatures, but one of the most – how best to put this? – consumed. Casting aside thoughts of roast potatoes and trimmings, however, let’s celebrate the turkey and friends in musical fashion and traditional context. In other words, whilst composers have often written about animals (see 8.578281-82), let’s think particularly of allusions to farmyard animals in music.
First, we can pick up the Thanksgiving theme and start with that old fiddle standby, originally derived from an Irish folk tune, Turkey in the Straw; but let’s not forget contemporary American composer John Corigliano’s altogether more savage barnyard allegory, A Black November Turkey (8.559180).
If you need a different fowl, look no further than Leroy Anderson’s witty Chicken Reel, his farmyard fantasia on Joseph M. Daly’s 1910 hit (8.559313). This was a great favourite of Arthur Fiedler, of Boston Pops fame, who appreciated Anderson’s novel rooster calls, which he obtained by getting a clarinettist to disassemble his instrument and just blow through the mouthpiece.
Talking of roosters, don’t overlook Michael Hurd’s charming Rooster Rag, a cantata for children’s choir in which a cunning fox is encountered (8.572505). Looking around the farm, there’s a donkey in the distance, so we have to include Rudolf Friml’s The Donkey Serenade, from his 1938 Hollywood outing Firefly. To add authenticity, let’s hear it in a recording of the time by legendary German vocal group the Comedy Harmonists (8.120613).
Hopefully, the donkey won’t serenade too merrily because there’s a rabbit in the field, possibly one of Bohuslav Martinů’s, though he doesn’t look too well. Poor Rabbit is No.2 of the Czech composer’s Fables, a set of miniatures written for solo piano in 1923 (8.557914). All farms have their dogs. Scott McAllister’s Black Dog is a real head-banger, a rock-infused rhapsody for clarinet and wind ensemble guaranteed to scare off any unwanted guests in no time at all (8.572319). And whilst I can’t condone cruelty to animals, if the dog is getting to be a bit of a handful, just whistle the tune of Joe Venuti’s canine classic, Beatin’ the Dog, and that should do the trick (8.120614). While we’re at it, you could also hum Venuti’s Kickin’ the Cat (8.120614).
Talking of farmyard felines, if you hear a jangly few notes on the piano while relaxing in the warmth of your hearth, it’s only the Kitten on the Keys, Zez Confrey’s old time favourite, still performed by specialists in peppy 1920s classics (8.570124-25). But you’ve got another kitten somewhere – there must be at least two in that litter of yours – and this is one of Lutosławski’s delicious kittens from his Six Children’s Songs (8.555763).
Although they’re farmyard fixtures, maybe cats and dogs are too domestic, so let’s peer outdoors again. There, of course, grunting merrily, is The Pig, one of Edvard Grieg’s brief Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances (8.550882), an element complemented by Hen, Hound, Cow and Goat, brought to life in fellow Norwegian Geirr Tveitt’s captivating A 100 Hardanger Tunes (8.555770).
Our tour of the farm is nearly over. But that pesky fox is still around, greedily eyeing the produce. Let’s pay him back in kind, obliquely. Canadian clarinettist and clarinet-maker Stephen Fox has produced a performing edition of John Ireland’s unfinished Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano of 1912-13, and it makes for very pleasurable listening (8.570550). I’m sure some animals have escaped my notice so let me know your choices for the farm. If you know of a Lullaby for a Llama I’d be interested, or – even better – an Aria for an Alpaca. Why should turkeys and kittens have all the best tunes?