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Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, harp, celesta, and strings
With The Birds, we find a 20th-century composer turning to baroque music for inspiration. Respighi's interest in music of the 17th and 18th centuries dated back to the first decade of the 20th century, when his transcription of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna was performed during a visit to Berlin in 1908. Even before that, his Suite in G (1905) shows the influence of Bach and Corelli, refracted through a century of Romanticism. Respighi's best-known efforts of this sort are his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances (1917, 1923, 1931), which collect transcriptions of Baroque lute pieces, and The Birds (1928).
Rather than lute works, for The Birds Respighi turned to keyboard pieces by Bernardo Pasquini (1637-1710, the "Prelude" and "The Cuckoo"), Jacques Gallot (d. c. 1685, "The Dove"), Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764, "The Hen"), and an anonymous 17th-century English composer ("The Nightingale"). The Prelude combines Pasquini's tune with fragmentary premonitions of the other movements, and it sets the tone for the work with its charmingly imaginative scoring for an orchestra no different from that of Mozart's day (piccolo, celesta, and harp excepted). The work as a whole serves as a reminder, in our own age of authenticity, that there are other ways to hear and enjoy Baroque music.
- John Mangum