Dr. Timothy Lewis
The Navigator

Photo courtesy of Dr. Timothy Lewis

Music is a powerful force. It can alter or augment our emotions. But can it also reflect a world around us? Composers have indeed long-used specific music elements as a means of representing sounds and events that surrounded their own daily lives.

That is the theme which VIU Professor of Music, Sasha Koerbler, will explore on Friday, January 24 as she kicks off the Spring 2014 VIU Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series with a presentation entitled “One Bird, Two Notes: ‘Bird Painting’ in Music.” As always, the event is admission-free and will be held at the Malaspina Theatre between 10:00 and 11:30am. Refreshments are available before the presentation, and a time for discussion and questions will follow.

Professor Koerbler explains that in the process of setting lyrics to music, medieval composers began to musically portray selected words. This process, known as word painting, has evolved significantly over time as composers developed increasingly sophisticated means of imitating or representing aspects of the human or natural world in their music. Koerbler’s presentation will focus specifically on the portrayal of birds in music from the Renaissance era into the 20th century.

While the imitation of birdsong was already evident in Renaissance vocal music, Koerbler points out that it was “in the Baroque era that the depiction of birdsong spread into instrumental music, where its best examples can be heard in Vivaldi’s composition ‘The Four Seasons.’” Composers of the Classical era incorporated more sophisticated, birdsong-inspired elements into their instrumental compositions, and Koerbler notes “that it has even been suggested that the well-known opening motive of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 was based on yellowhammer birdsong.”

Koerbler will also use her colloquium presentation to demonstrate how “elements of birdsong thrived in Romantic music, permeating the 19th-century vocal and instrumental repertoire of many composers, including Schubert and Mahler, and then spread further into the work of 20th-century composers such as Debussy and Messiaen.”

The Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series highlights the extensive research being done by VIU faculty through the presentation of admission-free public lectures open to students, staff, and the general public.

The Series continues on Friday, February 14 when Doug Stetar, Department of Media Studies and Digital Media Technology, will present 草泥马之歌 (Song of the Grass-Mud Horse): Language and Resistance in Chinese Social Media.

For more information on the Arts and Humanities Colloquium Series, contact Dr. Timothy Lewis at 250 753-3245, local 2114 or Timothy.Lewis(at)viu.ca.