June 4, 2007

Mozart Holds Funeral for his Sparrow

On June 4, 1787, Mozart held a funeral for his beloved sparrow, Vogel Star. He persuaded his friends to attend, hymns were sung, new music was composed (since lost), and Mozart recited a poem he had composed in the bird's honor:

    Here rests a bird called Starling,
    A foolish little Darling.
    He was still in his prime
    When he ran out of time,
    And my sweet little friend
    Came to a bitter end,
    Creating a terrible smart
    Deep in my heart.
    Gentle reader! Shed a tear,
    For he was dear,
    Sometimes a bit too jolly
    And, at times, quite folly,
    But nevermore
    A bore.
    I bet he is now up on high
    Praising my friendship to the sky,
    Which I render
    Without tender;
    For when he took his sudden leave,
    Which brought to me such grief,
    He was not thinking of the man
    Who writes and rhymes as no one can.

Mozart had purchased Vogel Star a little over three years earlier, and it appears that he was sincerely attached to it. The bird had been with him through a number of events: the birth of Mozart's second son, the birth and death of his third son, Mozart's bout with a serious kidney infection, and the composition of some of the best of Mozart's work.

Mozart's father had died just seven days before Vogel Star's demise, and it has been suggested that part of Mozart's grief for the bird's passing may have been due to unexamined feelings over his own complex relationship with his father.

Whatever the reason, Mozart's next completed composition after the bird's death is generally considered to have been composed in Vogel Star's honor. Called "A Musical Joke", it replicates many qualities of a starling's song, including the ability to intertwine two melodies, and Vogel Star's tendency to sing off-key.

Mozart was not alone among the great composers in his attachment to our feathered friends. Among the better known works inspired by birds are:

  • Vivaldi's flute concerto "Il Gardellino" ("The Goldfinch").
  • Beethoven's Sixth Symphony - which includes songs of the yellowhammer, the quail, and the cuckoo.
  • Bartok's Third Piano Concerto - inspired by various birds in the area where Bartok was living at the time.

Shortly after Vogel Star's death, Mozart bought another starling, which he kept in his room until a few hours before his own death.

Illustration: The "Bologna Mozart", painted in 1777 in Salzburg, artist unknown. Public Domain
Mozart's father said, "It has little value as a piece of art, but as to the issue of resemblance, I can assure you that it is perfect.”

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