When Darius Milhaud immortalized his favorite Brazilian tavern in a brilliant ballet work, Le Boeuf sur le toit, he was joining in a long line of composers who brought the common cow into music.
To take a look at the cow in music over a range of years, we can start with a song from the 13th century Codex Buranus – these are more familiarly known as the Carmina Burana – the songs from Beuern. One of the songs of unhappy love is about the farmer’s maid driving her cows to pasture where she meets a scholar…
Codex Buranus (13th century): Exiit diluculo rustica puella (The Farmer’s Maid Drives The Cows Out To Pasture) (Markus Foster, counter-tenor; Clemencic Consort; René Clemencic, cond.)
The Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg set many pieces entitled ‘Cow Call’ – they appear in his Op. 17 Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances, his Op.63 Nordic melodies and his Op. 66 collection of Norwegian Folk Songs.
Grieg: 19 Norwegian Folksongs,Op. 66: No. 8. Cow-Call (Geir Botnen, piano)
The Irish pianist and composer Joan Trimble (1915-2000) started her career as a duo pianist with her sister Valerie and composed music for them to play. Her pleasant piece, The Cows are a-milking, takes full advantage of the duo piano format.
Trimble: The Cows are a-milking (Roy Holmes, piano; Una Hunt, piano)
Inspired by a beloved cookbook by Emile Dumont, Leonard Bernstein sets four of his recipes in a work for voice and piano entitled La bonne cuisine. From the Beef section of Dumont’s La Bonne Cuisine – Manuel économique et pratique (ville et campagne), we have a brief description on the value of cooking with Ox Tails. It joins recipes for Plum Pudding, a Turkish chicken recipe, and one for a very quick rabbit stew.
Bernstein: La bonne cuisine: No. 2. Queues de Boeuf (Patricia Petibon, soprano; Susan Manoff, piano)
With a scenario by Jean Cocteau, stage designs by Raoul Dufy, and music by Darius Milhaud, the ballet Boeuf sur le toit could be nothing less than a surrealistic wonder.
Milhaud: Le Boeuf sur le toit, Op. 58 (London Symphony Orchestra; Antal Doráti, cond.)
In his 1920 setting of The Pretty Maid Milkin’ Her Cow, Australian composer Percy Grainger took as his basis a folksong from Lincolnshire in England that he had collected in 1906. Early one morning, the poet hears a damsel singing as she milked her cow – her voice was so beautiful that the listener was halted in his tracks and filled with sorrow.
Grainger: The Pretty Maid Milkin’ Her Cow (Peter Pears, tenor; English Chamber Orchestra; Benjamin Britten, cond.)
As a contrast with a real cow, the Russian composer Tcherepnin sets his piece to be about a porcelain cow – set in a vitrine next to two greyhounds. The placidity of the cow as contrasted with the active dogs was the composer’s inspiration.
Tcherepnin: Le Monde en Vitrine, Op. 75: I. The Greyhounds and the Cow (Giorgio Koukl, piano)
And finally, we have a real farmer describing his cows, but taken through the medium of modern electronics, we also have a rhythmic piece full of verbal stutters.
Bimstein: Garland Hrschi’s Cows (Philip Bimstein, electronics)
- The Neglected Bruch “Most of my works will be more and more neglected”
Guys, what WERE you Thinking!
Bigotry and Racism in Classical Music The titles of these classical pieces need some thought adjustment…
The City Morning and Night
Molinelli’s 4 Pictures from New York The music of New York with an Italian touch by Roberto Molinelli
Carl Maria von Weber: Inspired by Turandot
“Overture and Marches” for Turandot, Op. 37 The use of pentatonic melody “air chinois”