Birds by Michael S. Horwood
For Piccolo and Piano
SCORE FORM ONLY; includes 2 scores; separate parts not included
Birds was composed in 1979 for Laurence Trott through the auspices of The Piccolo Society and the American Music Center. The music conveys various aspects of birds, real and fanciful, from their origin through their uncertain future. The numerous playing techniques (bent tones, playing into the piano, coins on the piano strings, etc.) are used for their programmatic and suggestive values. This music calls upon many of the piccolo's special qualities: a smooth, rich legato in Birds in Flight, a cute, charming style in Baby Birds, a clear, thin, flexible, ghostly sound in Extinct Birds. The last movement, Birds in Flight, is suddenly interrupted by musical reminiscences (and slides of hunting, oil slicks and pollution), from the preceding movement, Endangered Birds, a reminder that the continued free flight of birds is something that can no longer be taken for granted.
1. The Origin of Birds: Empty sky. A free form slow tempo introductory movement. Small rhythmic cells are stated by the piccolo. The piano explores the extreme registers of the keyboard. Both build to a climactic ending.
2. Birds in Art and Symbol: A five note bass line in the piano turns into a quasi ostinato, over which the piccolo plays quicker repetitive figures that incorporate the five note bass line. Some art and symbol are humourous, others very serious.
3. Baby Birds: The delicate shells of birds' eggs are depicted by playing on the upper piano strings. The piccolo plays touching, almost child-like melodies and phrases, with a bit of baby chirping in the middle section. The visuals proceed from nest to hatched chicks.
4. Strange Birds: The bizarreness of what nature has given us with birds is fascinating. Here the opposite of “beauty” is not “ugly”, but “strange”. The bass end of the piano strings is covered with paper so as to produce a rasping effect along with a kind of stumbling rhythm. The piccolo plays awkward melodic leaps in angular rhythms interspersed with quirky trills. Strange, indeed. Almost weird.
5. Beautiful Birds: A simple three part form with lots of melody and rich accompaniment. Let this remind us that birds are not only beautiful in looks but also in the sounds of their voices.
6. Extinct Birds: Very slow, free form. Forlorn. Haunting. Distant. Primarily quiet and static. We will never really know the sounds of these extinct creatures. Their looks, too, are highly conjecture. But that lone, shrill, anguished cry near the end – the last gasp from the last of its kind.
7. Endangered Birds: A graphic score with all manner of avant-garde effects from both instruments. Noises, squeals, shocks, cries of unnecessary death. How can anyone kill or be responsible for the killing of these magnificent birds? The shame is solely on humanity.
8. Birds in Flight: Is flight what we ultimately remember about birds? Or is it their beauty, their songs? No matter, their free reign in the sky has been our envy at not being able to fly and our inspiration to try, however mechanically. A long, soaring melody floats over the top of a continuous sixteenth note pattern which travels through all the keys. Endless and timeless, yes, but not without a final reminder of humankind's horrible preoccupation with destruction. Empty sky, like the beginning. It is just not the same without the birds up there, flying, gliding, soaring.