Natural Music

IMG_3079During these summer months, it’s a great time to go out and explore the world of nature, so full of mystery and inspiration. For eons humans have contemplated nature and their place in it and have communicated their findings through art. Think of the prehistoric paintings found in the Cave of Altamira in northern Spain. We are really part of nature ourselves, and our feelings and emotions come from this natural existence. No wonder then that so many of us take delight in witnessing the myriad of ways artists explore nature.

Franz Schubert’s Lied, “Auf dem Wasser zu Singen” is a beautiful celebration of the soul and uses imagery from nature to communicate things that would otherwise be hidden.

Barbara Bonney Geoffrey Parsons “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” Franz Schubert


Mitten im Schimmer der spiegelnden Wellen
Gleitet, wie Schwäne, der wankende Kahn :
Ach, auf der Freude sanftschimmernden Wellen
Gleitet die Seele dahin wie der Kahn;
Denn von dem Himmel herab auf die Wellen
Tanzet das Abendrot rund um den Kahn.

Über den Wipfeln des westlichen Haines
Winket uns freundlich der rötliche Schein;
Unter den Zweigen des östlichen Haines
Säuselt der Kalmus im rötlichen Schein;
Freude des Himmels und Ruhe des Haines
Atmet die Seel im errötenden Schein.

Ach, es entschwindet mit tauigem Flügel
Mir auf den wiegenden Wellen die Zeit;
Morgen entschwinde mit schimmerndem Flügel
Wieder wie gestern und heute die Zeit,
Bis ich auf höherem strahlendem Flügel
Selber entschwinde der wechselnden Zeit.


In the midst of the shimmer of reflecting waves
Like swans, glides the bouncing rowboat
Ah, over the joyous, gently-shimmering waves
Glides the soul like the rowboat.
From the heaven on down the waves
Dances the evening glow around the boat.

Above the top of the western grove
Friendly greets us the red glow;
Below the branches of the eastern grove
The reeds rustle in the red glow.
Heavenly joy and the peace of the groves
The soul breathes in the evening glow.

Ah, disappears from me with the dewey wings
On rocking waves, flies the time
Disappears tomorrow on shimmering wings
Just like yesterday and today, flies the time.
Until I myself on more highly radiant wings
Flee from the changing time.,_D.774_%28Schubert,_Franz%29

Debussy’s “La Mer” (The Sea) is a beautiful example, a painting of movement and sound, the sea in all its colors and changes.

Gergiev cond. LSO

IMG_3071The visual arts and music often agree in their interpretations of nature. This painting was done by the British artist Joseph Turner in 1840, about twenty years before Debussy’s “La Mer” was composed. It is now housed in the Huntington Library in San Marina, CA. It is entitled “Neapolitan Fisher-Girls Surprised Bathing by Moonlight”. If you look at this painting and listen to “La Mer” it is easy to see that they are connected in a strange and mysterious way, dynamic, blurred, and engaging to the imagination, directly and actively involved in nature.

There are other ways to interact with nature, some much more literal. For example, some visual artists will paint something they see and it looks so real, as it it could almost get up and move.Or think of the still life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age with fruit that looks so juicy you want to pick it up and eat it! This literal imitation happens in music as well. Many animals welcome musical imitation because sound as communication happens in the animal world all the time. Among other uses, male birds use song to communicate to females. Here is a video discussing the sounds of birds of paradise.

The French composer Oliver Messiaen (1908 – 1992) specifically used motifs from nature to compose his music. Among many other sources of inspiration, he is well-known for incorporating bird calls into his music.

I personally love to create when I’m inspired by nature. We’re currently working on a new project entitled “Trees”. It’s originally a sonata for violin and piano, but we’re doing an orchestral version to go with animated sequences. That’s a summer project. Nature was also involved in the creation of “Crystal Cove” written for violin and piano, inspired by one of our state parks here in California. The possibilities are endless when we contemplate nature!


“Crystal Cove” premier, performed in Claremont, CA, November, 2013, Danielle Rosaria, violin, Nicodemus Marucut, piano


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