Two sopranos will meow in perfect tune at the Getty Center on Saturday evening.
The performance will take place as a part of the free lecture-concert series “Sonnets and Sonatas,” led by French language and culture professor Laure Murat. In Saturday’s lecture-concert entitled “Animals!” Murat will explore the role of animals in music and literature, specifically how various composers throughout history have portrayed them in their works.
Murat said her original idea for the combination of lecture and concert came from her belief that literature, visual arts and music all work together. She said the music acts as the backbone of the program, and its combination with the visual images projected on the PowerPoint effectively holds the audience’s attention.
Murat hand-picked the pieces of music that will accompany the lecture and said she took special care to incorporate musicians from a wide range of time periods and artistic styles. The compositions range from the late classical period with Franz Schubert’s “The Trout,” to much more modern show tune pieces such as George Gershwin’s “Walking The Dog.” As for the animals themselves, Murat also selected pieces that feature a diverse range of creatures – including butterflies, hens and fish.
Some of the compositions include animal sounds – John Cage’s “Litany for the Whale” includes an imitation of whale song, for instance, using two basses to mimic the sounds. In Gioachino Rossini’s “Humorous Duet for Two Cats,” two sopranos take turns meowing at one another.
Murat said she drew inspiration for Saturday’s theme from modern events in animal rights. For instance, in France’s laws, domestic animals have recently become categorized as sentient beings. Murat said she feels confident that similar changes in the understanding of animals are occurring in many parts of the world, such as the rise of animal-friendly diets, and believes she can relate to many people through the theme of animals.
Murat chose to end the show with Gershwin’s “Walking the Dog,” a charming tune that she said conjures up the familiarity of walking the family pet by using a jazzy melody and simple harmonies on clarinet, cello and piano.
Ambroise Aubrun, a violin lecturer, is the musical director for “Sonnets and Sonatas.” Aubrun said he enjoyed seeing the different ways composers approached the task of portraying animals – some were poetic interpretations, while others were much more humorous. He said he found that Rossini’s “Humorous Duet for Two Cats” seems almost to make fun of the animals, while other pieces, like Olivier Messiaen’s “The Abyss of the Birds,” which acts as a metaphor for the Holocaust, had a more solemn tone.
Alumna Rosalind Wong has been the pianist for the series since its inception in 2013. While working on “Animals!” Wong said she has learned more about her own instrument while simultaneously studying how composers interpret the sounds and experiences of animals.
Wong will be performing “The Hen” by Jean-Philippe Rameau, a piece originally written for harpsichord, which mimics the sound of a chicken clucking. Wong said she initially struggled to figure out how to rework the song for piano, given the different timbres of the two instruments.
“On the harpsichord it really does sound like (a chicken clucking), on the piano a little less so, so I’m trying to figure out ways to really highlight the hen aspect of the piece,” Wong said.
Murat said she hopes that by connecting the music and animal-centric themes from the lecture, attendees will gain a better understanding of the role animals play in society, and how their role has changed throughout history. Murat believes that animals have influenced many different aspects of history, from law to philosophy to music, and that it is possible to understand the ever-changing, close relationship between humans and animals through the arts.
“One of the main arguments of … Aristotle is that what separates us from the animals is that animals cannot speak,” Murat said. “Music is also a wordless art, in a way, so that’s something they have in common. (It’s) interesting to connect unexpected dots like this.”