Birdland

Share Button

The St. Louis Symphony performs Olivier Messiaen’s Des Canyon aux ├ętoiles… (From the Canyons to the Stars) at Powell Hall on January 16 and on the California tour that same month. The piece will be accompanied by video images of the great canyonlands of the Southwest, shot by the artist Deborah O’Grady. Those monumental spaces are where Messiaen walked, taking in the expanse of the land, sky and sound that are unique to the American West. Messiaen loved birds, especially the sounds and songs of birds, and incorporated their music into his own.

Olivier Messiaen writes down what the birds sing in Bryce Canyon in 1972. Photo credit: Fondation Olivier Messiaen.
Olivier Messiaen writes down what the birds sing in Bryce Canyon in 1972. Photo credit: Fondation Olivier Messiaen.


From the Canyons to the Stars
is sure to be one of the St. Louis Symphony musicians’ hot picks for 1516. Messiaen was an enigmatic composer. Many of the musicians store memories of him, whether playing his music or encountering the man himself, and you’ll be hearing about those as the Canyons to the Stars event draws closer.

Richard Goode. Photo credit: Steve Riskind.
Richard Goode. Photo credit: Steve Riskind.

But today I want to share a memory from this past season, relating to birds, music, Messiaen and Mozart. When the pianist Richard Goode was in town to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, K. 453, I conducted an interview with him for the St. Louis Public Radio Saturday live broadcast. I mentioned a famous anecdote about Mozart’s pet starling singing a passage of the K. 453. I suggested a link between classical Mozart and modern Messiaen, since they both were inspired by birdsong.

Goode corrected me: Mozart taught his starling to sing the theme; Messiaen learned and adapted many of his themes from the songs of birds. Then Goode took on an old Brooklyn accent: “Mozart never loined from no boid.”