The Way of the Dodo: Long Lost Bird Inspires New Musical Work

The Natural history Museum, London, England(Photo: srboisvert/Creative commons/Flickr)
The Natural history Museum, London, England(Photo: srboisvert/Creative commons/Flickr)

You might think writing new music for an archaic instrument like the harpsichord is simply for the birds.

But if those birds are the long extinct dodo birds, well, then it’s easy to see what the flap is all about.

A joint project between the Centre for Arts and Humanities Research at London’s Natural History Museum and the Royal College of Music has resulted in the composition of a harpsichord suite inspired by the long-extinct dodo bird, according to a story released by the Natural History Museum. The new suite is part of an ongoing project to mine the potential of natural history specimens to inspire the creation of classical music works.

Cambridge University composer Tim Watts chose the dodo bird, whose legendary 350-year history of extinction remains heartbreakingly mysterious even today, as the inspiration for his Dodo Suite for harpsichord.

“Despite being a composite, the [Natural History Museum's] dodo skeleton seems full of ‘personality’, as if it is trying urgently to communicate through the glass that now confines it,” Watts told the Natural History Museum.

Watts also said his Dodo Suite aims to capture something of this bird’s personality. Even the bird’s now almost mythic status is embodied in the harpsichord, which Watts characterized as an instrument that “not so long ago also came quite close to extinction,” and which in his Dodo Suite “inhabits an imaginary space” through various extended techniques.

Hear an excerpt from Watts’ Dodo Suite and read more: Ode to a Dodo: New Music and Research Released (NHM)

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