Cats and Classical Music
by Giselle Stancic
As a cat adopter and classical musician, I’ve long been intrigued by the influence of our feline friends on composers and their music. Cats hold a special place in keyboard, vocal, orchestral, and contemporary music. Going back in history, one of the earliest cat-inspired compositions was Domenico Scarlatti’s “Cat’s Fugue” from 1739. As the story goes, the composer’s cat wrote the melody as she walked across the harpsichord keyboard. Here’s a piano version. Can you hear the kitty on the keys? Moving into the 19th century, Gioachino Rossini’s “Duetto Buffo di Due Gatti” consists of one word — you guessed it — “meow.” Check out this performance by opera sopranos Kiri Te Kanawa and Norma Burrows, complete with a little playful purring.
Later in the 1800s, Camille Saint-Saëns honored the king of cats in his “Introduction and Royal March of the Lion,” which opens The Carnival of the Animals. This piece captures the regal bearing of our cat companions, no matter their size. Enjoy the roars in the pianos! Twentieth-century composers also paid homage to their feline collaborators. Igor Stravinsky composed a set of cat lullabies for voice and three clarinets. Maurice Ravel lived with several Siamese cats who served as models for the meow duet in his opera, L’Enfant et Les sortilège (The Child and the Spells). Alberto Ginastera dedicated one of his Cinco Canciones to the “Gato” or “Cat dance,” popular in his home country of Argentina. In this spirited version, you can almost see the “cats” twirling across the dance floor. And, as a clarinetist, how could I forget to share the cat theme from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf?
In contemporary music, composer Philip Glass once said that a number of his pieces were started when his cat walked across the keys of his piano. Here’s a cute video of “A Cat Called Honda,” with Glass’s music playing in the background. Throughout the centuries, cats have been a source of artistic inspiration, but who will be the next great composer to immortalize the cat in music? Or maybe our kitties will spark our creativity to write a song or compose a symphony. We’ll keep listening.
Edited by Rena Henderson