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The Composer’s Menagerie

A program of music about animals

Some of the great composers’ most interesting and evocative pieces are those which depict the qualities of animals. Michael Arnowitt’s novel new program on this theme explores animals small, medium, and large, from the homestead and the barnyard to insects, birds, sea life, and animals of the wild.

He’ll perform classics such as Schumann’s version of Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, a scene from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf featuring a duck, a cat, and a bird, Mussorgsky’s lifelike portrayal of oxen in Pictures at an Exhibition, Copland’s humorous The Cat and the Mouse, Franz Liszt’s Mazeppa, in which a horse is the focus of action, and Bela Bartok’s delightful From the Diary of a Fly.

Composers Maurice Ravel, William Bolcom, Edward MacDowell, Erik Satie, and Henry Cowell help reveal the full range of life on earth, with pieces about salamanders, bears, tigers, sea animals, night moths, and the famous snake in the garden of Eden.

Olivier Messiaen once said: “Among the artistic hierarchy, birds are probably the greatest musicians to inhabit our planet.” Compositions about birds on the program include Schumann’s >The Prophet Bird, Rameau’s Call of the Birds, and Messiaen’s La Bouscarle from his magnum opus Catalog of Birds.

While there are many humorous passages in these pieces depicting the motions and behaviors of animals, there are also moments of great beauty as composers get out of their studies and explore Nature’s wonders.

Sample program

J.S. BachSheep May Safely Graze (from Cantata no. 208)
    arr. for piano by M. Arnowitt

Bela BartokFrom the Diary of a Fly
Robert SchumannFabel (Fable), from Fantasiestücke (Fantasy pieces), op. 12
    (based on Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare)

Edward MacDowellOf Salamanders, op. 61 no. 4, from Fireside Tales
Charles DavidsonButterfly, section 4 from the song cycle “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”

    arr. for piano by M. Arnowitt
Maurice Ravel
Noctuelles (Night moths) from Miroirs

Jean-Philippe RameauLe Rappel des Oiseaux (The Call of the Birds)
Robert Schumann
Vogel als Prophet (The Prophet Bird) from
    Waldscenen (Forest Scenes), op. 82

Franz Liszt
Mazeppa (Transcendental Etude no. 4)


Sergei ProkofievOpening scene from “Peter and the Wolf”

    arr. for piano by M. Arnowitt

    (with narrator)

Domenico Scarlatti“Cat” Fugue (Sonata in G minor, L. 499)
Aaron CoplandScherzo humoristique, “Le chat et la souris”

    (The cat and the mouse)

Modest MussorgskyExcerpts from Pictures at an Exhibition


    Bydlo (oxen)

    Baba Yaga - The Hut on Fowl’s Legs

Dmitri ShostakovichThe Bear, from Children’s Notebook, op. 69
Allen ShawnGrowl

Erik SatieEmbryons desséchés

    Of the Holothurian

    Of the Edriophthalma

    Of the Podophthalma

    (with narrator)

Edward MacDowellOf Br’er Rabbit, op. 61 no. 2, from Fireside Tales
William BolcomThe Serpent’s Kiss, from The Garden of Eden:

    Four Rags for Piano

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