Guest Post: Brian Long Reflects on Mahler’s First Symphony and World War One

Zygmunt Ajdukiewicz, Krakow and Goral folk costumes in Lesser Poland (1898, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Zygmunt Ajdukiewicz, Krakow and Goral folk costumes in Lesser Poland (1898, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I first “met” Brian Long when we were classmates in two MOOCs offered by the Curtis Institute of Music, Jonathan Biss, Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, and From the Repertoire: Western Music History Through Performance. I remember fondly, among other things, our many lively discussions about Arnold Schoenberg in the latter course.

On the heels of the Biss/Beethoven course, Brian created, for anyone who would like to join, a wonderful platform for continuing discussions and listening: the Great Composers Appreciation Society. Each month, we select music to listen to and discuss. Along the way, we share our concert experiences and discuss all manner of things.

I’m pleased to report that the Society has just celebrated its first year anniversary, with congratulations and grateful thanks to Brian Long for making this all happen. In one of the Society’s concert diary entries, Brian wrote about a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. I’m pleased and proud to present Brian’s reflections on that performance, Mahler, and World War One on Prufrock’s Dilemma.  

Brian Long Reflects on Mahler’s First Symphony and World War One

I recently heard the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Andrew Davis conducted. I have heard this music many times, but as with all great music, it has particular resonances each time you hear it, and this time was no exception. The first movement felt like a postcard from a long lost world. This year there have been many commemorations of events 100 years ago which led to World War One. Gustav Mahler’s Austria-Hungary and Vienna were at the heart of those momentous events. I have been reading newspapers from the time and have been repeatedly struck by the way in which the nations of Europe, in particular Austria-Hungary, stumbled into that terrible war. A combination of arrogance and naïveté seems to characterise the thinking of Europe’s leaders at the time. Sleepwalkers is what Christopher Clark calls them in his bestselling book.

The symphony features a famous opening that conjures up the rural world that Mahler knew from his childhood. He was in his late 20s when he wrote this music and had spent his formative years in a non-descript country town in Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The town was also home to a small army garrison and the march music and bugle calls that Mahler associated with it became a prominent feature of his music. The opening of this symphony is a good example. For me this music was especially poignant at this performance as I imagined these small rural garrison towns a century ago as they moved from the last few days of untroubled summer tranquillity into the coming military catastrophe. Could the collision of the 19th century and the 20th with all its modernity ever have been more palpable then in these small rural towns in the Austro-Hungarian provinces? In that sense, the music conjures the last years of a lost world.

I have also been reading a book about emigration from Galicia to the United States in the last half of the 19th century (Kaiser of America by Martin Pollack). Galicia was another province of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It straddled what is now eastern Poland and western Ukraine. It was one of the poorest parts of Europe and witnessed an emigration wave of peasants seeking a better life in the USA. The book movingly conveys the poverty and desperation these people felt. Mahler’s upbringing was considerably more comfortable, but he would have also known some aspects of life in such areas. So, again as I listened to his symphony, I thought of those impoverished areas in the outer reaches of the European world that 100 years ago were set to become the first battlefields of a war that changed our world for ever.

As I listened to the performance I felt that the most innovative element in Mahler’s first symphony was actually the third movement. This is famous for quoting the nursery rhyme known to most English speakers as Brother John or Frere Jacques. Mahler changes the melody into the minor key and creates out of it a ghostly funeral march. This was the first time I had heard this symphony played outside Vienna. So maybe that helps clarify why I was suddenly aware of how radical and indeed strange this music must have seemed to Vienna’s concert-going public of the time. Mahler was an outsider in Vienna. He was a Jew from a poor background in a provincial town. Even though he rose to the top of the musical establishment, he remained at heart and at home tied to his roots in a simple lifestyle. He may have played for and rubbed shoulders with the wealthy and well to do in turn-of-the-century Vienna, but in his being, and therefore his music, he remained an outsider. His Vienna was a city steeped in the music of Beethoven and more recently Brahms and along he came with a ghostly rendering of a children’s song played initially by a solo double bass. No wonder his music was criticised for being “banal”. How the audiences of his day must have felt that this composer was a provincial up-start pulling their collective leg!

None of these insights are particularly new. But the confluence of the 1914 commemorations, my own reading and this particular performance brought out these many fascinating aspects for me. Such can be the power of great music!

About Brian Long: Brian Long studied music in Melbourne and Vienna, where he lived from 1991 to 2001. He teaches in the Arts and Cultural Management program at the University of Melbourne and is currently researching the efficacy of self-management in orchestras.

Unknown photographer from Rohatyn, Jewish musicians of Rohatyn (west Ukraine) (1912, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Unknown photographer from Rohatyn, Jewish musicians of Rohatyn (west Ukraine) (1912, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Listening List

Brian chose three performances of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, listed below in order of preference. As two are no longer available on YouTube, I have added the Abbado/Lucerne here:

Brian’s three choices:

Daniel Harding & Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (no longer available on YouTube

Bernard Haitink & Berlin Philharmonic (no longer available on YouTube)

Leonard Bernstein & Vienna Philharmonic:

Bonus Tracks: In the course of our discussion here about Mahler’s First, which contains “false” or “augmented” cuckoo calls, commenters have identified other works that contain cuckoo calls. A Spotify playlist of the works identified may be found here.


Credits: The photographs at the head and foot of the post may be found here (Zygmunt Ajdukiewicz, Krakow and Goral folk costumes in Lesser Poland (1898)) and here (Unknown photographer, Jewish musicians of Rohatyn (west Ukraine) (1912)).






33 thoughts on “Guest Post: Brian Long Reflects on Mahler’s First Symphony and World War One

  1. David Damant

    A brilliant insight, Susan. I would only add that Britain’s greatest historian, Sir Michael Howard (Order of Merit), at a lunch I organised last week, put his finger on the essential reason for World War One – human nature. Why did so many young men, even in Britain where they had a choice – no conscription till 1916 – believe that it was glorious to die for their country? And all over Europe there was that identification with one’s own country and hostility to others. To put that right ( I would add) we would have to go back to the Garden on Eden. Not Easy

    I would also add as a reason for the war the non democratic nature of the German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires. Democracy is wrongly identified only with everyone having a vote, whereas we need in addition proper structures for decisions based on the efficient taking account of the various pressures, and the correct balance of powers within the state, the rule of law, parliament set up for proper debates, the elimination of arbitrary decisions etc. Such structures were absent or primitive in Berlin, Vienna and St Petersburg. I do not think that Britain can attract much blame, except for being irritatingly ( to other nations) self satisfied.

    As Churchill said, in 1914 we suffered the greatest calamity in Europe since the collapse of the Roman Empire before the barbarians. But the tensions had been building up for years and years. By 1914 Europe was a pile of gunpowder – anything could have set it off

    King of Spain (1913) – Mr Churchill, do you believe in the European War?
    Churchill – Sir, sometime I do and sometimes I don’t

    The book by Clark is very well regarded ( by for example Sir Michael as above) but I do not care for the title. To be a sleepwalker implies not seeing things which would be seen if one only opened one’s eyes, whereas the people ( people generally – not only the leaders) in 1914 either could see the dangers and thought that there were higher things ( ” war is a necessary activity” – ” eternal peace is an unpleasant thought ” ), or there were things which were not properly realised ( the power of defensive weapons etc). Sir Michael’s own book ” A Very Short Introduction to WW1″ (Oxford) is brilliant and has the advantage of being very short

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David D: Wonderful to “see” you here, and offering so much to think about. I’ll take up one point that struck me particularly: “Why did so many young men, even in Britain where they had a choice – no conscription till 1916 – believe that it was glorious to die for their country?” This took me back to Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, perhaps the first book I read, now many years ago, relating to the Great War.

      For me, what’s so striking about the First World War is what a watershed it turned out to be in any respect one can name. Here’s a bit from the book that your question put to mind: “. . . that was a different world. The certainties were intact. Britain had not known a major war for a century, and on the Continent, as A.J.P. Taylor points out, ‘there had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871. No man in the prime of life knew what war was like. All imagined that it would be an affair of great marches and great battles, quickly decided.” [My side note: although they should have known differently, if the entire sweep of history had been taken into account.]

      Back to Fussell, “Furthermore, the Great War was perhaps the last to be conceived as taking place within a seamless, purposeful ‘history’ involving a coherent stream of time running from past through present to future. . . . the Great War took place in what was, compared with ours, a static world, where the values appeared stable and where the meanings of abstractions seemed permanent and reliable. Everyone knew what Glory was, and what Honor meant. It was not until eleven years after the war that Hemingway could declare in A Farewell to Arms that ‘abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.’ In the summer of 1914 no one would have understood what on earth he was talking about.”

      One of many things I so appreciate about Brian’s observations is that attentiveness to the magnitude of what was lost. As Brian wrote of the first movement of the Mahler, “Could the collision of the 19th century and the 20th with all its modernity ever have been more palpable then in these small rural towns in the Austro-Hungarian provinces? In that sense, the music conjures the last years of a lost world.”

  2. wanderer

    Following on from David Damant, I would add – the nature of the human male. Clarke’s specific referencing of the ‘crisis of masculinity’ is apt, and reminds me of a tremendously testosterone fueled and violent Gotterdammerung (Aix, BPO, Rattle) where at the end all one could conclude was the imperative of giving the keys to the planet to the women. Plus ça change …

    Runnicles conducts Mahler 1 in Sydney later this year. That should be a flag on anyone’s calendar.

      1. David Damant

        Well, Kipling had a view………

        When the early Jesuit Fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaw
        They prayed to be delivered from the vengeance of the squaw
        Scientific vivisection of each nerve till it is raw

        The female of the species is more deadly than the male

        David Damant

  3. David N

    Complementary reading: von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear, the most potent of many books I’ve read about the world that mostly vanished after World War One and was finished off by the second war. This all makes perfect sense.

    On testosterone-filled trouble makers, I have a slight tangent, which is that I used to think all malicious and distress causing internet trolls were male (the vitriol against women is unbelievable). But I recently found out that my own, ‘andrewandjoshua’ was a woman masquerading as a gay extreme right-wing American. I suppose this is merely a more widely visible form of the poison penner who turns out to be a little old lady in the village. And our latest news is about the poor deluded woman who tormented the couple here whose child was abducted (the McCann case) and committed suicide after a Sky news reporter doorstepped her. Why he should be held any guiltier than most of his kind I fail to understand, but it’s still a wretched tale for all concerned.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Thank you for the reminder on the von Rezzori book, which I’d lost sight of and wanted to read. I’d add Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, and, while a slighter book, Joseph Roth’s The Emperor’s Tomb, is full of poignant insight–and of course Simon Winder’s Danubia gives us the sweep of Habsburg Empire history Winder-style. (In line with your tangent, you’ll see my note to wanderer above about an operatic depiction of the “distaff” side of cruelty beyond redemption.)

      I hope you’ll come back by and offer your own reflections on Mahler’s First. I’ve been listening to the First now with Brian’s thoughts on it in mind, and there is no question but that my listening has been enriched. I’m particularly struck by Brian’s comments on the third movement. How emblematic it now seems to me of what was lost: the sweet innocence of a nursery song, by musical contortion, becomes, to borrow Brian’s words, a “ghostly funeral march.” From innocence to irony, which is how I often think of the effect of World War One.

      1. David N

        What’s to add? This is a personal view well backed up by sound hunches about the unique qualities (especially how utterly disorienting the slow movement must have felt to audiences in the 1890s). But its ingredients are those in all subsequent Mahler symphonies, added to and amplified. I suppose you could extend the argument to ‘Blumine’, the ‘intermezzo’ Mahler suppressed early on, as a peculiar kind of last post. I’m always happy when it’s included.

        The biggest rot I ever heard about the First was Roger Norrington’s assertion that the hero dies two thirds of the way through the finale – that was just silly, like so many of that gentleman’s views on vibrato etc. He should always keep silent about Mahler.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          David: Listening to Blumine now, and glad to find out about that. Clearly, Norrington is one to avoid (not that I even knew to be tempted by him on Mahler). I need to invest in a set of the Mahler symphonies on CD. I’m assuming Abbado is the one to get, maybe this: And thanks for weighing back in here. Rest assured, you always have something to add. You’re the guy, after all, who prompted me to find my way in to Mahler–the DVD of the Ninth, the Lucerne conducted by Abbado, with your notes in hand.

          1. David N

            Actually, here’s a good one: did either of you notice that the cuckoo in the outer movements sings a fourth – the pervasive interval of the symphony – rather than a third? Shostakovich picks it up with another ‘false cuckoo’ in the twilight zones of the Fourth Symphony’s First Movement.

            1. Susan Scheid Post author

              David: That IS a good one, and certainly not something I’d picked up. You must know by now that I’m a sucker for quotes/allusions between composers–not to mention always happy to revisit Shostakovich’s Fourth. Just a day or so ago, I spotted the Shos 4 as part of a great program at Bridgewater Hall and have the concert queued up for a listen on BBC Radio 3. (Nice review of the concert on The Arts Desk, I also see.)

              1. Brian Long

                Yes, the “augmented cuckoo” is a nice touch. I hope this is not reading too much into it, but it seems to me a good example of Mahler’s practice of referring to external musical elements but “bending” them into different contexts, the use of the folk song in the third movement is another example.

                On recordings, Abbado is probably hard to beat. Rattle is also good. Jonathan Nott has been very well received of late, but I don’t think he has yet finished the cycle. I also like Boulez, though his approach is not everyone’s cup of tea.

                BTW, Constantin Floros is very good at “decoding” Mahler:

                1. Susan Scheid Post author

                  Brian: “Bending” seems a good way to put it, perhaps even more so with regard to the third movement. And thanks very much for the tips on recordings and about the book, which has gone straight onto my wish list.

            2. Brian Long

              Falling fourths are also prominent in the themes of Mahler’s seventh (first movement) and eighth symphonies (on “Veni”). So it seems to be an interval he liked playing with and perhaps not surprising that for him a cuckoo sounded best as a fourth!

              1. Susan Scheid Post author

                Brian: Interesting about the falling fourths in Mahler’s 7th. In following the trail of the cuckoo call from Mahler to Shostakovich, I ran across this: “Shostakovich’s assistant I. B. Finkel’shtein recalled that, while he was composing the Fourth Symphony, the score of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony invariably stood on Shostakovich’s piano, and that he talked a lot about it. (Here’s the link:'s%20Seventh%20Symphony%20on%20Shostakovich's%20piano&f=false)

                Also, in the course of all of this, I’d meant to go look up the “actual” sound of the (European) cuckoo! Here it is:, and, related to that, I found this priceless letter to the editor of The Spectator dated 1909 on the issue of the interval of the cuckoo call, stating, among other things: “there can be no doubt, I think, that the normal call of the cuckoo is a minor third.” While my proficiency in hearing or voicing intervals, whatever little it may have been, long ago lapsed, the audio does sound like a minor third to me. But the letter-writer also notes that he remembers “hearing one in early spring in the Isle of Wight whose interval was a fourth.” So, of course, this gives rise to the question, what did Mahler actually hear?!

                1. David Nice

                  Pedant’s corner: major third, surely…a minor third would make it even less likely that a fourth might result.

                  On terra firma, there’s one Mahler First which stands way above the others for me, Kubelik with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Nothing quite like the Bohemian freshness of his woodwind – a reminder that Belohlavek claims Mahler as a Czech composer.

                  1. Susan Scheid Post author

                    David: Thanks for the Kubelik tip, on which I’ll definitely follow-up. On the cuckoo, I’m going to respond further in a separate comment, as there are three! of you weighing in, to my very great delight.

                    PS: May I introduce you to my fellow GCAS person Alan Andrews, who has commented below, and has weighed in in in favor of the major third, too? Alan refers to what you label as “pedant’s corner” with the term “anoraky.” (I’m probably spelling this wrong, but I suspect you’ll know the slang.) The key thing is I love anoraky-ness/pedant’s corner. I am so scattershot and deficient in my musical understanding that I learn from it every time.

                2. Alan Andrews

                  Just popped over here from the GCAS group, but regarding the cuckoo interval, I would think that musical considerations would usually override ornithological accuracy. I’m with Beethoven and Delius on this and they used major 3rds.

                    1. Brian Long

                      Olivier Messiaen was, of course, the absolute guru on bird call in music. He wrote entire musical catalogues of bird calls. I don’t know his music well enough to know which interval he used for the cuckoo, and perhaps the cuckoo was not “exotique” enough to attract his attention. Nevertheless, this may be of interest:

                    2. David N

                      On it goes (anoraky is exactly right!) – further major thirds in Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des Animaux (though very melancholy, clarinet versus mysterious piano chords), probably more but as I was thinking I came to, I think it’s Daquin as arranged by Respighi in The Birds, and that’s a minor third (as the fifth and third steps of a hyper-jolly major-scale treatment).

                    3. Susan Scheid Post author

                      Brian & David: The “anorak” string about cuckoo calls has become so long I can’t reply directly to your latest posts (and even if I could, it would look like some sort of odd one word per line poem). But, never fail (!?), I have responded below here and here

  4. Brian Long

    Thanks for these comments. I have almost finished Clark’s book and have over the years read one or two others so that I think I can more or less understand what led to the outbreak of World War I. What I now find much less fathomable is why the belligerents continued once the various fronts, in particular that in the West, got bogged down in the trenches. By mid-1915 at the latest it must have been clear that nobody was going to “win” this war. And yet it dragged on for another three years. That sad fact speaks of an unfathomable contempt among political and military leaders for human life.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Brian: That this unwinnable war continued so long once it was, or should have been, clear that it was indeed unwinnable, is hard to fathom, though your comment about “contempt among political and military leaders for human life” certainly strikes a chord with me. It does seem far too easy to make a decision to get into a war than to make the decision to get out of it–and both of those decisions suggest a far too low priority placed on the loss of–and damage to–lives. I think of Vietnam, and, more recently, Iraq. This is certainly oversimplified, but when I think of the US in Vietnam, it seems to me we backed into creation of a monster thoughtlessly and by degrees, after which political face-saving strategies seemed to count above anything else, including the cost to human life. The issues surrounding Iraq are of course different, but once again, the US rushed in, with complete disregard for common sense, and got well and truly stuck.

      What so moved me, and continues to move me, about your thoughts on Mahler’s First Symphony is your ability to listen, and help us all to listen, to this work in a multi-layered way. You’ve brought to bear and given us the gift of glimpses into your knowledge of Mahler and the world in which he lived, your own time spent in this part of the world, your readings of newspapers at the time, and your readings of history–and not just in broad strokes, but down to the impact on individuals like those in the evocative photographs you located to accompany the post. You have imagined deeply and humanely into this world, as exemplified here and also by your note to me about the second photograph: “Just imagine what they sounded like back in 1912!” I would love to know. I hope we’ll see more discussion here, but in the meantime, many, many thanks for your post, not to mention for master-minding our ongoing discussions over at GCAS.

  5. Josie Holford

    Cannot comment on human nature – whatever that might be. Nor the role of testosterone in WW1. But do have to say that this a great post. I love the how it speaks to how the music of the era unveils that pre WW1 world now forever lost. As always – there is so much all of us need to know and understand about that time. This is an insightful and informed contribution. I love that you return always to the contemporary resources. Thank you Brian.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Josie: And you, of course, are saying this even with your overflowing shelves devoted to WWI books: personal accounts, written-at-the-time histories, written-now histories, poetry, and the like, with more being added all the time. We’ve talked about Brian’s question and don’t have a good answer, but you’ve made this observation (much embellished): “They’d sold it to themselves. They’d ginned up popular support with propaganda. How could they lose face?” But of course, as we discussed, this is only one small strand of the issue and hardly begins to touch the question Brian has raised.

  6. Susan Scheid Post author

    In an earlier comment, David Nice noted that, in Mahler’s First, “the cuckoo in the outer movements sings a fourth – the pervasive interval of the symphony – rather than a third” and that “Shostakovich picks it up with another ‘false cuckoo’ in the twilight zones of the Fourth Symphony’s First Movement.” The “false cuckoo” calls in the Mahler appear a number of times. If my ears don’t deceive me (and they might), the first examples I spotted can be found at 3:10 and 3:30 in the Daniel Harding/Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra video. In Shostakovich’s Fourth, I believe I hear them at the timestamps noted for each version below:

    Neeme Järvi/Scottish National Orchestra:
    10:25/22:49 (2 times each)

    John Storgårds/BBC Philharmonic: (available for 30 days from October 11, 2014)
    1:18:44/1:31:34 (2 times each)

    Also, the close of the first movement appears to me to work with the same call. If anyone knows whether this is so, I’d love to know. (Starts at Järvi-26:17; Storgårds-1:34:43)

  7. Susan Scheid Post author

    David, Alan, wanderer, Brian, and anyone else who might happen by: Further on our friend the cuckoo call, I offer a miscellany of cuckoo call “stuff” below. (Let me hasten to add, I don’t offer this as evidence of anything at all. As others have noted, musical considerations should and do trump–and, indeed, perhaps Mahler was not bending the cuckoo call per se at all, but Beethoven’s!)

    Firstly: Am I correct that, in the audio of the actual bird call, the interval is a minor third? (I draw no conclusions from this; I just want to know whether my ear is hearing the interval in the bird call correctly.)

    Secondly: I looked at the score for the Abt piece wanderer posted here:,_wie_alt_Op.237-4.pdf. If my eyes do not deceive me (and they probably do), the cuckoo’s call occurs in intervals of both major and minor third. (On the first page, the first three cuckoos are major thirds, the fourth, in the third line, is a minor third.)

    Thirdly: I see stated, though I haven’t confirmed this, that “Cuckoos are known to change their song during the spring and early summer . . . . The interval moves, roughly, from a minor third to a major third to a fourth. This is not clear-cut: sometimes you can hear the later, bigger intervals early in the season; in May, to hear a mixture is not unusual. Sometimes the intervals aren’t completely clean, to our ears.” (I am now even more curious to know what Mahler actually heard in nature.)

    Fourthly (provided by the Edu-Mate, my personal in-resident WWI expert): I don’t know whether you are familiar with the Wipers Times, but it was a trench newspaper notable for its ironic tone. At the time, a staple of Times letters to the editor were reports of the first cuckoo calls that sounded in the spring. The Wipers Times had its own version of this, as below (link is here:

    Whilst on my nocturnal rambles along the Menin Road last night, I am prepared to swear that I heard the cuckoo. Surely I am the first to hear it this season. Can any of your readers claim the same distinction?
    -A LOVER OF NATURE (2/12/1916)

    As a lifelong reader of your excellent paper, I hereby claim the privilege of a few lines of space to contradict “A Lover of Nature’s” letter in your last issue. Firstly, I heard the cuckoo myself two days previously; secondly, he doesn’t know enough about birds to differentiate between species; and thirdly, in order to prevent this again wasting your valuable space, I suggest that what he really heard was a sniper calling to its mate.
    Yours etc.,
    -ONE WHO KNOWS (2/26/1916)

    Sir—I read, with feelings of disgust, a letter in your last week’s issue over the nom-de-plume of “One Who Knows.” Knows what—I ask! Nothing!—I reply. One who has not the courage to even sign his own name. I am surprised that the editor of a paper with the circulation that you boast should have found room for such a scurrilous, lying effusion. The ignorance of the person is visible in every sentence. Will you please find room for this letter, as otherwise my reputation may suffer in the eyes of those who do not know the true facts.
    I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
    P.S—I reiterate that I am the first to hear the cuckoo this season. (3/2/1916)

    LOVER OF NATURE—Nothing doing, that bird’s dead. (4/17/1916)

  8. Susan Scheid Post author

    Brian: Ah, yes, Messiaen, the Bird Guy in Chief! It was via Aimard, actually, that I first learned of Messiaen’s Oiseaux pieces. I’d gone to hear him play Bach’s The Art of the Fugue (tremendous), and he had CDs of some of the Oiseaux works. There is nothing like them! As for the cuckoo, well, off I went on the trail of a Messiaen cuckoo, and here is one (well, several): They appear in V. Amen des Anges, des Saints, du Chant des Oiseux. I found them through a discussion of this piece at page 400 here: I think the cuckoo starts to come in (intermixed with other bird calls) after about 2:43 in the video, getting to the “vehement cuckoo” at about 4:57, and that the interval is a minor third. But I am, way above my pay grade here, so don’t hesitate to disabuse me of all of this.

  9. Susan Scheid Post author

    David: Anoraky-ness rules! So now I just want you to picture this: I am sitting here, listening to the “Cuckoo” section from Saint-Saens’ Carnaval des Animaux, then stopping at the cuckoo call to somehow ferret out of the dim recesses of my memory how to “sing” the interval involved! So very interesting to hear, as you note, how very melancholy this call is. (For anyone who wishes to join the anorak brigade, here’s the piece:

    And then, in a way the converse, Respighi’s arrangement of Daquin, uses a minor third (stopping to “sing” to myself to see if I really can hear it), yet, exactly as you say, part of a “hyper-jolly major-scale treatment.” For the anorak brigade, here’s this piece:

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