Five pieces of music inspired by the great outdoors

By Celia Casey

Blog ·

Five pieces of music inspired by the great outdoors

Many composers have not only found solace in nature but also a great deal of musical inspiration. For example, German composer Felix Mendelssohn once said “It is in pictures, ruins, and natural surroundings that I find the most music.” Below are just five of our favourite works inspired by the beauty of Mother Nature. 

1. Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture
In 1829, Mendelssohn made a trip to the rugged Hebrides islands in Scotland. While there, he visited the awe-inspiring Fingal’s Cave, a basalt sea cave located on the island of Staffa, and was immediately inspired to compose Hebrides Overture (also known as Fingal’s Cave). The music magnificently captures the grandeur of the cave - undulating melodies recall gently-lapping waves, while surges of sound and cymbal crashes represent crashing waves. 

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2. Debussy’s La Mer
Another work which reflects the power and majesty of the sea is Debussy’s La Mer (The Sea). It draws upon a rich musical palette, incorporating lush orchestral colours and embellished by shimmering flutes and glittering harp. The music was also inspired by the iconic artwork ‘The Wave’ by Japanese engraver Hokusai, which was reproduced on the score’s cover at the composer’s request.

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3. Mahler Symphony No.3
Mahler’s spectacular Symphony No.3 is about a chain of creation. The first movement represents the rocks and mountains, while the light and elegant second movement evokes flowers in a meadow, gently bending in the wind. In the third movement, which Mahler nicknamed an ‘animal-piece’, the music is at times untamed, like wild animals, but it opens with a delicate cuckoo song that Mahler wrote for voice and piano about birds reacting to the death of a cuckoo. You can experience this in our upcoming Mahler 3 event on Saturday 24 November in QPAC's Concert Hall. 

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4. Vivaldi – Four Seasons

One of the most iconic examples of nature represented in music is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a set of four violin concertos representing each season. It begins with Spring, which evokes a flowering meadow, joyful bird songs, and a murmuring stream. The icy Winter, stormy Summer, and joyful Autumn follows.

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5. Messiaen – Éclairs sur l'au-delà
Messiaen loved birds and would musically transcribe their songs to use as a basis for composition. Éclairs sur l'au-delà (Lightning Over the Beyond), his last completed composition, threads birdsong from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, and Australia through several of its eleven movements. Included amongst the locations Messiaen visited on his trip to Australia during our bicentennial celebrations thirty years ago was Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland, where he transcribed the song of the pied butcherbird. This can be heard in the eighth movement of the work, ‘Les étoiles et la gloire’. 

"I give bird songs to those who dwell in cities and have never heard them, make rhythms for those who know only military marches or jazz, and paint colours for those who see none" – Olivier Messiaen

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