RISM on a Lark

Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK

As we enter the deep months of winter here in Frankfurt (no snow yet, though), thinking about 2019's Bird of the Year puts us in a spring mood with thoughts of nice weather. The skylark is the 2019 Bird of the Year here in Germany, chosen by the environmental organization NABU. The attention drawn to one of our messengers of spring, though, comes with the troubling facts that its habitat is disappearing and the population is declining.

Skylarks can be heard often in the open fields that surround Frankfurt. You usually hear them before you see them, and they get started in the wee hours of the morning. The males ascend straight up into the sky until you can't see them anymore, while singing its distinctive, long, and energetic song. They hark the arrival of spring here and usually take off for the warmer climes of southern France and Spain in the fall.

Music referring to the skylark can be found throughout RISM in a variety of languages, but almost always in pieces that include voices, presumably as a way to describe the behavior of the bird. We have, for instance, "The lark had proclaim'd the new day" (ballad by Thomas Brabazon Gray, RISM ID no. 990022675) and versions of the Welsh folk song "The rising of the lark" (here in a version by William Ling, RISM ID no. 990038094).

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's delightful "Lerchengesang" (Song of the Lark) is preserved in an autograph manuscript in Berlin (see image) that is dedicated to Gustav Adolf Spiess and Gustav Friedrich Martin of Frankfurt. In fact, Mendelssohn was in Frankfurt in 1839 when a group of his friends organized an outing to the surrounding woods, and it was for this occasion that he wrote the song. Imagine a performance of this in the warm summer months, outdoors, in the woods, sipping champagne and eating strawberries.

Mendelssohn's song appears elsewhere in RISM, including in a Korean manuscript, where the song was used for music appreciation (RISM ID no. 350001474).

Have a lark exploring RISM for sightings of the skylark, woodlark, lark, Lerche, and alouette.  

Image credit: Page 5 of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's autograph manuscript of "Lerchengesang," Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - PK (D-B) 55 MS 61 (RISM ID no. 460006100).                 resolver.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/SBB00001F8800000000



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