Felix Mendelssohn: “Spring Song in A Op. 62, No.2” from Songs Without Words

Before moving to Washington, DC 7 years ago, our family lived in the Maryland suburbs.   It fell to me to take our dog for morning walks rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter. During winter, the days were so short that I had to stay on the well-lit, open paths, because it was too dark. With the coming of spring, the days would lengthen and I could walk through the woods that lay at the bottom of our development and along the creek that ran through it.

In last Sunday’s post, I wrote about how–once spring starts–every day a new flower, bush or tree seems to come into bloom.  My daily walks in the woods also attuned me to the comings and goings of birds as well, and it seemed like every day, I would notice a different bird’s song.  The beautiful melody of the American robin.  The harsh call of the blue jay. The whistles, squeaks and croaks of the grackle, its iridescent blue-black flashing in the early morning sun.  Later in the season goldfinches would come and I also noted the slate juncos, king birds, and if lucky, a Baltimore oriole or a blue bird. On one of my walks, I heard a metallic banging and espied a crazed flicker hammering away at the wood-sheathed chimney on one of the town houses. The cardinals never left. Nor did the sad sounding mourning doves.

For about a two or three week period, there would be a riot of bird calls down by the creek. The males would be frantically trying to attract the attention of the females. Once they mated, it would become oddly silent in the mornings as they went about building their nests. Sometimes in summer I would hear a male mocking bird–which imitates all other bird songs–singing its heart out. This was sad: it meant he had not found a mate. His misfortunes however would mean I continued to be serenaded on my walks.

I was born in Indiana, which has roughly the same set of birds as here below the Mason Dixon line. My older brothers all liked to hunt and we had several rifles and shotguns. My father once told us that as a boy he had received a slingshot as a present. He took it out one day and aimed it at a robin that was sitting on a fence and let fly a pebble. The stone reached its mark and he ran over to pick up the bird. As he scooped it up, he looked down at it, the bird opened its eyes, and then died. From then on he never shot birds and he forbid us to do so as well. But that did not apply to blue jays, which he believed were marauders. Whenever we heard a group of them come into our yard, one of my brothers would grab our .22 calibre rifle and run outside.

My father could identify and whistle the call of most of the birds in our area, and he taught me them as well. One day years later, as I sat eating my lunch outside a factory where I had a summer job, I heard a beautiful bird’s song that I didn’t recognize. I looked around and saw a blue jay sitting on a telephone wire. I continued to listen for the source of the song, and suddenly I saw the blue jay open its mouth and out it came. This was astounding to me, since I had only heard them screech before.

A piece of music that makes me think about birds is Felix Mendelsohn’s piece, Spring Song in A. This piece pops up in many Bugs Bunny cartoons where a character gets a head injury and sees stars and birds flying around his head. It comes from a collection called Songs Without Words that Mendelssohn wrote when he was about 21.

Today in preparing for this entry, I listened to the Spring Song probably for the first time in its entirety. It’s only about a minute and a half long, and the twittery tune extracted in the cartoons is only stated once. For the rest of the piece the left hand plays a rolling up and down continuo that makes me think of a a walk along a stream. The right hand takes the melody and varies it in interesting ways.

So like with the song of the blue jay, what for me was once a hackneyed, trivial piece, I now find a work both subtle and evocative.

Mendelssohn Biography

Download MP3s or purchase CD of Mendelssohn: Songs Without Words from Amazon

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

3 Responses to Felix Mendelssohn: “Spring Song in A Op. 62, No.2” from Songs Without Words

  1. kvennarad says:

    I’m glad you mentioned cartoons before I did. It is often claimed that early-mid 20c cartoons brought classical music to unsuspecting audiences who wouldn’t normally hear it. I’m thinking of Popeye’s ‘Spinach Overture’ which featured Suppé, and Bugs Bunny’s ‘What’s Opera Doc’ with Wagner, as examples. You can find both on YouTube, by the way. 🙂

    I really enjoy your posts, Kurt.

    Like

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