The Birds (Gli uccelli) (1928) is a suite for small orchestra by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). Respighi had a love of early music and often incorporated older pieces into his works: The Birds is a beautiful example. Written in the neo-classical style it is based on French and Italian music from the baroque era and represents an attempt to transcribe birdsong and bird actions into musical notation.
The work is in five movements and begins with a Prelude (arranged here), based on a lively melody by Pasquini. This opening movement gives a preview of the bird calls and melodies to come. Listen out for the fluttering wings of the dove, the clucking hen, the beautiful song of the nightingale and the unmistakable two-syllable calling card of the cuckoo. The end section of the Prelude was used as the theme tune to the BBC’s antiques quiz show Going for a Song which accompanied caged bird automaton singing over the programme’s opening and closing credits.
Unsurprisingly Respighi made much use of solo winds in The Birds – so it transforms extremely effectively into an arrangement for wind quintet!