The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s summer. Which composers and musical works have been inspired by insects? | July 14, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s summer.

The Ear likes to watch the fireflies or lightning bugs and hear the crickets that come with the season.

But he is much less fond of ants and spiders, of bees and wasps, and especially of mosquitoes, which seem particularly plentiful and aggressive after the very wet spring Wisconsin experienced.

But it turns out that, over many centuries, insects have inspired a lot of composers to write music that mimicked them and their noises and movements.

Professional violist and music educator Miles Hoffman (below) recently discussed insect music on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here is a link:

You can read the printed transcript, but the real fun and learning come if you listen to the audio clip that includes musical excerpts.

Some prominent ones were overlooked or not mentioned, including Romantic composer Robert Schumann’s “Papillons” (Butterflies) for solo piano, which you can hear played by Wilhelm Kempff in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Can you think of other composers and pieces that focus on insects?

Leave the name or title, plus a YouTube link to a performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. More:
    Schumann: Op.2 Papillons

    Bartok: “Mosquito Dance” from his 44 Duets for 2 Violins

    Mussorgsky: “The Beetle” from The Nursery

    Enescu: “Cricket” from Impressions d’Enfance, Op.28

    Hovhaness: Love Song Vanishing Into Sounds of Crickets, Op.327

    Grofe: “Crickets & Distant Thunder” from The Grand Canyon Suite

    Cervantes (Cuban composer, 1847-1905): Cri-Crí (Cricket)

    and, of course:

    “He Spake the Word” from Handel’s Israel in Egypt. (“And there came all manner of Flies”)

    Comment by Steve Kurr — July 14, 2018 @ 6:47 pm

  2. A couple of others to add:

    Sergei Prokofiev — March of the Grasshoppers, from his “Music for Children”

    Sergei Prokofiev — Grasshoppers and Dragonflies, from his Opera “Cinderella”

    Also, in the second piece from Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” — “The Hanging” — the sinuous meandering middle line was intended to depict the travels of a small insect traversing the hanging corpse as it dangled in the breeze.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — July 14, 2018 @ 7:34 am

  3. How about these:

    Chopin, Etudes in F Minor (“The Bees”) for piano;

    Amy Beach, Fireflies, Opus 15 (for piano)

    Bartok, “From the Diary of a Fly”, for piano: a very nice piece indeed;

    Georg Philip Telemann, Cricket symphony, TMV 50:1;

    Francois Schubert, The Bee (for violin);

    Claude Debussy (piano & voice) AND Ernest Chausson, Les Papillons (piano and voice);

    E. Grieg, Butterfly (for piano);

    and top choice is: Shostakovich Music for the movie, The Gadfly.

    Then here are some pieces not exclusively about insects but where they might be found, and make appearances:

    Frederick Delius, In a Summer Garden;

    Alan Hovhaness, Symphony #25; “Odysseus” whose notes have been compared to the sound of insects, especially cicadas;

    Alan Hovhaness, The Garden of Adonis, Opus 245;

    Jean Sibelus, Symphony #5 (features sound of birds and the buzzing of insects)

    Comment by fflambeau — July 14, 2018 @ 4:14 am

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