COMPOSER'S TOOLS: Composers and Nature
Thoughts on the Artist's Ties to Nature

Nature's Inspiration

Composers have been influenced and inspired by nature for centuries. You can join them by making your own musical connection to nature. Use any of the models below when developing a music-and-nature project. (For additional detail, see SCORES, RECORDINGS, READINGS)

Scarlati: The Seasons

Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven: The use of the Sturm und Drang principle.

Beethoven in particular wrote storm-inspired episodes in many of his works, most notatable in his Piano Sonata (Appassionata) and Sixth Symphony (Pastorale).

Artists of the Romantic movement (music, literature, fine arts) were particularly drawn to nature and forces in nature.

Debussy used the orchestra as a sonic canvas to describe his impressions of clouds, the sea and the night. He depicted the sensuality of nature in the Afternoon of a Faun.

Ravel use the combined forces of orchestra and chorus to described the dawn in Daphis and Chloe.

Respighi explored several themes of nature in his Pines of Rome.

Arnold Schoenberg: By the lake (farben) from Five Pieces for Orchestra

Bela Bartok: In the Mist (from Mikrokosmos)

John Cage: Imaginary Landscape

George Crumb: Haunted landscape, Voice of the Whale (Vox Balaenea), Black Angels (especially electric insects). Voice of the Whale is divided into long sections named after the geological ages and was inspired by the song of the humpback whale. Some of the instrument sounds imitate whale song, others symbolize the passage of macrotime in the depths of the ocean.

Priscilla McLean: Dance of Dawn (electronic music)

John Grayson: Sound Sculpture (essays) including Environments of Musical Sculpture You can Build.

R. Murray Schaffer: Soundscapes, World Soundscape Project (designed to explore and note trends in man's relation to his sonic environment.

Selected Soundscape Project Publications

The Book of Noise
Okeanos (a ninety minute tape dealing with the symbolism of the ocean)

Pauline Oliveros: Sonic Meditation. Incorporated bioenvironmental sounds. Sample text:"Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears."

Oliver Messiaen: From the Canyons to the Stars (includes bird songs, impressions of Canyonlands, use of a geophone and wind machine), many of his compositions are effected by his fascination for bird songs, especially Oiseaux Exotique, Oiseaux Fantastique and Chronochromie.

Blank: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Karel Husa: Apotheosis of This Earth (a litany on the destruction of Earth)

Nature Themes

  • seasons, moods of the day, moods of the year, dawn, sunset
  • clouds, thunderstorms, stormy winds, moods of the sky and weather, tempests, hurricane, storm systems, tornado
  • mountains, hills, buttes, mesas, badlands, canyonlands.
  • lookouts, broad vistas, plains, valley, hideaways.
  • moods and forces of water in the sea, rivers, lakes.
  • rain, snow, fog, mist
  • rhythms of the human body
  • rhythms of natural process
  • analogs in musical structure to natural process. Let a natural sequence of events suggest a musical structure and dramatic image for a work.
  • chaos and sensitive chaos. Take inspiration from fractal patterns that occur in nature in growing things, shorelines, snow flakes, cloud formations, land formations, crystals and so on.
  • sounds of nature: birds, wind, surf, falls, storms
  • Approaches to Nature Themes

    Use sound effects, sound masses and sonic events to "paint" a picture of a vista, force or event in nature.
    Use instrument and voice colors, melody, rhythm, harmony and texture to describe the sensual impact of particular aspects of nature.
    Let a natural sequence of events or structure of the event suggest a musical structure or dramatic image for a work.
    Use instrument and voice colors, melody, rhythm, harmony and texture to describe one's inner feelings about particular aspects of nature. For example, there is a sense of oppressive stillness and foreboding that preceeds summer storms. This is followed by growing excitment and apprehension as the storm approaches and develops. One feels awe, exultation or fear during the full force of the storm. As the storm dies away and the skies clear, one feels relief, returning confidence or joy.

    Words and Music

    Use poetry or prose on nature themes to compose for solo voice, accompanied song, unaccompanied chorus, accompanied chorus. See Stephen Spender, Robert Frost, Wordsworth, Carl Sandburg and other poets or writers who seem particularly drawn to nature.

    Write your own text (prose or poetry) and set it to music.

    Collaborate with a poet or writer.

    Video Score

    Write the score for a video production on nature or environmental awareness. Use a time code enabled sequencer such as Master Tracks Pro (Passport Designs) or Studio Vision Pro (Opcode Systems) to synchronize the music with video action and video frames. Take inspiration from the subject matter and its sequence of events.

    As an option, write a score for a proposed video on nature. In this case, develope a story board and timings and synchronize the score with these materials.

    Collaborate with an animator on an environmental awareness project.

    Combined Arts (Multi-media)

    Music combines well with dance, staging and the graphic arts. For example, a local dance company once proposed to collaborate with a composer to create a recital based on ideas of sensitive chaos (patterns of turbulence influenced by environmental conditions).

    Also, a composer can be inspired by the work of artists (e.g., Pictures at an Exhibition). For example, a local composer and canyonlands artist once collaborated on an recital/art show titled "Landscapes." The composition, "Landscapes," included contemplations about art and nature from the artist's diary as well as vocal texts written by the composer. The second movement, a song for soprano and guitar, was based on an adaptation of the Native American prayer, "I walk in beauty." It was performed in the midst of the artist works at the art show opening. Write a score for a dance recital or an art show that has a nature or environmental awareness theme.