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Walter Braunfels: The Birds

  • Ein lyrisch-phantastisches Spiel in 2 Aufzügen (1913-1919)
  • 3 2 2 2 - 4 2 3 1 - timp, perc(2), hp(2), cel, str; flute behind the scene
  • Duration: 120’
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute
    2nd flute
    3rd flute
    cor anglais
    1st clarinet in A
    2nd clarinet in A
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon
    1st horn in E
    2nd horn in E
    3rd horn in E
    4th horn in E
    1st trumpet in Bb
    2nd trumpet in Bb
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    3rd trombone
    1st harp
    2nd harp
    violin I
    violin II
    flute cont.aind the scene
  • Choir: SATB
  • Roles: Hoffegut und Ratefreund, Bürger einer großen Stadt, tenor and high bass Stimme des Zeus, baritone Prometheus, baritone Wiedhopf, einstens ein Mensch, nun König der Vögel, baritone Nachtigall, high soprano Zaunschlüpfer, soprano Adler, bass Rabe, bass Flamingo, tenor 1. Drossel, low soprano 2. Drossel, soprano 3 Schwalben und 2 Meisen, sopranos 4 Wendehälse, tenors 2 Kibitze, basses ballet
  • Composer: Walter Braunfels
  • Writer of pre-existing text: Aristophanes
  • Text source: after Aristophanes
  • Text adapter: Walter Braunfels

Work introduction

Premiered by Bruno Walter in 1920 (the year when the Phantastische Erscheinungen also received its first performance), The Birds may well be the composer’s chef-d’oeuvre; it is certainly the work that has had more performances than any other of his compositions after World War II, with productions fairly regularly since its first post-war performance in Berlin in 1994. Klaus Geitel described the experience in Die Welt: “Saturated with a closely-woven richness of inspiration … a magnificent piece of music”. Seventy years previously, Alfred Einstein enthused after the premiere: “I do not believe such a complete work of art has ever before been performed on the German operatic stage. There is an imperative at work here which calls for comparison with the Mastersingers and Pfitzner’s Palestrina.”

“The key to Braunfels’ treatment of the subject lies in the depiction of three levels of reality: the world of men, the world of the birds (or that of the imagination) and the world of the gods. Whereas in Aristophanes the men succeed in their rebellion against their gods, Braunfels here lends a more ‘Christian’ character to Zeus, father of the gods and has him punish man for his arrogance. After the city of the birds has been destroyed by the forces of heaven, the birds pay homage in a pious hymn to the power and greatness of the gods. The humans have to return home in humiliation.” (Frithjof Haas)


The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Nationaltheater, München (DE)
Bruno Walter

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