The birth of modern music

The Bird King’s favourite piece of music is a forgotten masterpiece by Hector Berlioz, the rousing Symphonie priapique.


Mahler wrote the last movement of his 13th Symphony (a funeral march with braying donkeys and laughter) before he’d even started his first.


Debussy is known for such mellifluous tone poems as La mer. A less celebrated work was La foule hystérique for demonically possessed choir.


Igor Stravinsky intended Le Sacre du printemps to be performed by headless musicians. Unfortunately the idea was never realised, though decades later John Cage was to employ a decapitated pianist in 4’33”.


A deleted passage from the draft of Varèse’s Amériques was scored for orchestra, vacuum cleaners, car horns, thunder and crying babies.


Steve Reich wrote music to be performed in zero gravity, for example Monotony for violin, in which the musician plays a continuous E, stopping only when all the sand in an hourglass has fallen from the top bulb into the bottom, i.e. never.


Iannis Xenakis’s best orchestral work is Chthon, performed 1000 metres under ground, the audience being above ground and out of earshot.


With thanks to Sean Fraser for supplying the John Cage material.

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