Three Birdsongs

Masterclass, Vienna, 1784

Mozart’s starling could whistle the theme

from the last movement of his Piano Concerto

No. 17. But it did sing the G natural as a G sharp.

Das war schön, he wrote in his expense book.

Always praise the beginner.

When the bird died, Mozart made his friends

dress in black and march solemnly

to the tiny grave, where he read a bad poem

in honour of the student he named “Star Vogel”.

Serenade, Oxted, Surrey, 1924

Beatrice Harrison sat in a ditch with her cello,

wearing her best clothes to get in a concertizing mood.

She was trying to lure the nightingale near her cottage

to sing live for the BBC. Maybe it was stage fright

or the technicians with their ton of equipment,

but it was almost an hour before the bird

joined in for “Danny Boy”, singing in thirds.

Das war auch schön.

Solemn Vespers, Oxted, Surrey, 1942

Beatrice had moved away, but the annual concerts

continued, with a nightingale a cappella. This time

the archival recording carries a ground bass,

the roar of 197 bombers on the way to Mannheim.

The flip side caught the bird hours later,

still singing as 186 of them returned,

many pounds lighter.

Das war nicht schön.

Leave a Reply