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Avian Flute

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"Now, in our story, the characters are represented by instruments in the symphony orchestra—for instance, the bird by the high sounds of the flute."
Itzhak Perlman narrating Peter and the Wolf

The songbird — from forests and woodlands around the world, the tweeting of birds is an instantly recognizable sound for anyone familiar with the outdoors. The high pitch of their calls puts them in a similar range with flutes, sometimes piccolos. As such, it's only natural that when composers wish to represent birds in music, they most often turn to the flute, giving it a generally light, jaunty tune that flitters about in a way reminiscent of the beating of small wings and tweeting.

The one common orchestral birdcall least associated with flutes, though often heard with flute/piccolo birdcalls in counterpoint or in succession, is the cuckoo's descending third or fourth, which is usually scored for the clarinet.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The eponymous tone poem in Liz and the Blue Bird uses a flute solo to represent the blue bird, in a duet with an oboe solo that represents Liz.

    Film - Animated 
  • An American Tail: After the confrontation with Warren T. Cat and his gang and a subsequent fire, Fievel finds himself at an orphanage where he begins to lose hope that he'll ever find his family. As the scene shifts from a dark, rainy night to morning, a light piccolo begins playing as a flock of small birds flies in and begins splashing around in the puddles left from the night before.
  • The Land Before Time: Shortly after Littlefoot is left on his own, there's a small interlude where a flock of small pterosaurs begin fighting over a small fruit. While not actually birds, they flutter about and chirp like modern birds, and their actions are scored by light-hearted flutes.
  • Robin Robin: Each main character is associated with a different instrument. Robin,a robin, is associated with a cheerful tune on two flutes.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: At one point, we start following a small bird as it flies around the Hogwarts grounds, accompanied by a very fast flute piece (starting at 1:50) that highlights its flight until it meets an unfortunate end at the Whomping Willow.
  • The Reluctant Dragon: Taken quite literally during the actual short, where there's a part where the dragon is leading a trio of birds in song with a flute.
  • The Magic Crane: The arrival of the titular crane is heralded by the sound of flute music, being played by its rider and handler, Wan-fai.
  • Parodied in Road to Zanzibar, where, after some dialogue discussing the use of an Invisible Orchestra in movies, a bird call is Mickey Moused to the sound of a flute. Bing Crosby asks it to take it down a semitone, and the bird, or rather invisible flutist, obliges.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Wiggles: One segment had the Wiggles imitating animals with musical instruments, including Murray, who played a flute to imitate a bird.

  • Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev: The bird is represented by the flute. While this may not be the Trope Maker, it is almost certainly the Trope Codifier.
  • Frostiana: Seven Country Songs by Randall Thompson, a setting of several of Robert Frost's poems as choral pieces, includes the song "Come In". The poem portrays the narrator hearing a thrush in a nearby wood, which is represented by a recurring solo flute.
  • Concerto in D for Flute RV 428 by Antonio Vivaldi is subtitled "The Goldfinch" and has several trilling and swooping passages suggesting the title creature.
  • The "Aviary" movement from Carnival Of The Animals by Camille Saint Saens makes prominent use of the chamber orchestra's one and only flute, containing fast scalar passages and trills that evoke comparison to a flock of birds. The preceding movement uses an offstage clarinet to represent a distant cuckoo.
  • Olivier Messiaen's flute/piano duo The Blackbird is one of this composer's earliest works to show his affinity for avian song. The flute's bird-like arsenal of effects includes trills, fast staccato passages, grace-note embellishments, and fleet scalar figures.
  • Landscape With Birds by P?teris Vasks is a solo flute piece that conjures up images of the title characters through use of warbling repeated fragments, fluttertongue passages, nervous trills, and agile grace-note figures.
  • Scored for two piccolos and three percussionists, the hour-long multi-movement work songbirdsongs by composer John Luther Adams draws its melodic material from actual bird songs.
  • The Carpenters song "It's Gonna Take Some Time" features a flute solo that resembles birdsong; perhaps referencing an earlier phrase in the first verse: "The birds on the telephone line, are crying out to me"
  • Pamela Marshall's solo flute work Communing With Birds makes use of warm, sinuous figuration to suggest a low-key flock of birds.
  • The slow movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastoral") ends with a passage that depicts several birds calling to each other. A flute is used to mimic the nightingale's song, while oboes and clarinets respectively imitate a quail and a cuckoo.
  • Maurice Ravel's orchestration of the piano work Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky contains a movement entitled "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks." Its scoring prominently features two flutes playing grace-note figures that ornament running oboe and bassoon passages, the whole suggesting an energetic clutch of baby chicks.
  • Mother Goose Suite (Ma Mere L'Oye) by Maurice Ravel exists in versions for piano four-hands and orchestra. The second movement, "Little Tom Thumb," depicts the title character's trail of bread crumbs being eaten by birds; the orchestral version scores its cheeping bird-like music for flutes and piccolo. More bird-calls scored for flute, piccolo and oboe can be heard in some of the interludes of the full ballet score.
  • Two Steps from Hell's "Flight of the Silverbird" begins with a soaring flute solo that evokes thoughts of the titular bird.
  • Gustav Mahler mimicked bird calls with flutes (and clarinets) in several of his early symphonies, with the musicians often explicitly directed to play these quickly without regard to the beat.
    • The first movement of Symphony No. 1 in D-Major Titan and finale of Symphony No. 2 in C-Minor Resurrection have naturalistic bird calls juxtaposed with distant fanfares.
    • The first movement of Symphony No. 3 has a motif consisting of a repeated broken major chord that is played like a bird call by a piccolo moments after it is introduced in a quiet transitional section. The same motif is taken up contrapuntally during the development section by many other instruments in all registers, including the timpani.
    • "Lob des hohen Verstandes" (In Praise of High Intellect), from the Des Knaben Wunderhorn collection, is a comic song about a singing contest between a cuckoo and a nightingale presided over by a foolish donkey, with Mahler using the stereotypical woodwind instruments to characterize each bird.
    • The third movement of Symphony No. 3 begins with an instrumental orchestration of another facetious Des Knaben Wunderhorn song, "Ablösung im Sommer," proclaiming the cuckoo's death and the nightingale's consequent ascendance. Not surprisingly, the opening prominently features flutes, clarinets, piccolo and piccolo clarinet, with the song's melody beginning on the piccolo. (The song version was not orchestrated by Mahler.)
  • The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's version of "The Friendly Beasts" (arr. Mack Wilberg) has a chirping piccolo after the verse about the "dove from the rafters high".

  • In The Firebird, most of the titular bird's music involves fast flute runs.
  • In Der Rosenkavalier, as the first act opens, flutes and other high woodwinds play trills to represent birds singing in the garden.
  • In Richard Wagner's Siegfried, the "Forest Murmurs" sequence in the second act, which frames Siegfried's battle with the dragon Fafner, has the hero listening intently to the song of a bird represented by flute, oboe and clarinet riffs. The bird's most important Leitmotif appears mostly on the latter two instruments, though Siegfried also attempts to play it himself (badly) on his own improvised reed instrument, and the motif is sung by a human voice when Siegfried realizes he can understand its words after tasting the dragon's blood.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: The song "Greenfinch and Linnet Bird begins with fluttering flutes as Johanna, watching birds in cages, likens herself to one of them, singing about her own desire for freedom.
  • In the Manuel de Falla ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, the first scene begins with a miller trying to teach a bird to count to two. The bird, represented by the piccolo, frustrates him with sequences of three and then four tweets. Later, as the cuckoo clock counts nine (the cuckoo being symbolic because the Corregidor, having arrested the miller on a pretext, is about to pay a visit to his wife), the same piccolo tweets echo each clarinet cuckoo call.
  • Königskinder has a flute Leitmotif representing the fluttering of forest doves.

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