The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: With much of Wisconsin underwater from historic flooding, Britten’s opera “Noah’s Flood” seems timely. Can you think of other works inspired by floods and natural disasters? | August 30, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

Right now much of Wisconsin lies underwater.

This past week has seen record-setting rain and historic flooding along with high winds and tornadoes that have left many towns and counties declared official disasters.

Then yesterday, Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for the entire state. More rain and thunderstorms are predicted for all weekend and next week.

The flooding is not on the order of the deadly and destructive wildfires out west. But the situation seems nonetheless the kind of emergency or natural disaster that usually draws some kind of attention of the national media — on a smaller scale something like Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria that devastated  respectively, New Orleans, Houston and Puerto Rico.  

But this time The Ear can’t recall seeing or hearing even mentions or 10-second spot reports about the flooding of a state capital on national news programs. Can you?

New programs always seem to focus more on weather stories when they occur on the coasts and in the south. And right now the media also appear preoccupied with offering ever more words about the deaths of Senator John McCain and singer Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul.”

But the situation got The Ear to thinking and searching.

Are there works of classical music inspired by flooding and other natural disasters?

And he doesn’t mean just music inspired by and celebrating calmer and less destructive water such as George Frideric Handel’s “Water Music” or Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony or Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Ebb and Flow” Music.

One important discovery that met the criterion was the children’s opera, “Noah’s Flood,” composed by British composer Benjamin Britten (below) in the wake of his own personal and home experience with floods – as you can see in the YouTube video below.

Can you think of other works composed in response to a natural disaster?

If so, in the comment section please leave the names of the work and composer and, if possible, a link to a YouTube performance.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. The thunderstorm in Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite.


    Comment by Nancy H Klatt — September 1, 2018 @ 6:19 am

  2. How about a general choral work for the floods, disasters, and global warming?

    I just heard part of this on WPR and think it is superb: It is by a young Norwegian composer, Ola Gjeilo, and called his “Sunrise Mass” (it seems secular):


    Comment by fflambeau — August 31, 2018 @ 1:26 am

  3. I think this column touched a raw nerve and/or a wet raincoat.

    I agree with the posters who see this as more evidence of climate change. It has happened before but never on this level and never so frequently. This is some of the water from the thawing antarctic.


    Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2018 @ 10:35 pm

  4. Feb 8, 2019 The Flood World premiere! Co-commissioned by Opera Columbus and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, Composed by Korine Fujiwara with a libretto by Stephen Wadsworth, The Flood tells a story of human connection through loss and shared tragedy, centered around the devastation of Columbus’ Franklinton neighborhood in the Great Flood of 1913.


    Igor Stravinsky, The Flood (1961-62) A musical play for solo voices, chorus, speakers and orchestra. Text: Book of Genesis, York and Chester Miracle plays

    Jules Pegram: HIGHER GROUND (2018) Opera in One Act


    Comment by Peter Belenky — August 30, 2018 @ 4:49 pm

    • Wouldn’t it be nice to see the MSO again commissioning new works? It hasn’t happened much under you know who.


      Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2018 @ 10:37 pm

  5. Two things about Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde.” This one-act opera effectively served as a plot device in Wes Anderson’s marvelous film “Moonrise Kingdom.” Perhaps my husband John Kruse and I enjoyed discovering “Noye’s Fludde” in the film because John had sung the role of Noye in an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, production directed by Clark Angel during the 1960s. As we watched “Moonrise Kingdom” we remembered the delight of seeing/hearing imaginatively costumed young children portraying the animals – two by two. We recalled hearing the “raindrops” created by the sound of drumsticks on ceramic cups. Everything about Anderson’s comedy and that particular live production showcases Britten’s imaginative uses of a seemingly happy story in which the survivors are limited in number and kind.


    Comment by Ginny Moore Kruse — August 30, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

  6. Following Voltaire, Leonard Bernstein and Lillian Hellman worked the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 into the plot of “Candide.”


    Comment by Peter Belenky — August 30, 2018 @ 3:23 pm

  7. How about the end of Gotterdammerung where the banks of the Rhine overflow and the Rhine Maidens retrieve the Golden Ring?


    Comment by Robert Palmer — August 30, 2018 @ 11:04 am

  8. Good suggestions, and a slight quibble: This flooding is not a natural disaster, it is undeniable proof of climate change.


    Comment by slfiore — August 30, 2018 @ 9:04 am

    • Thank you for replying Susan.
      As far as I can tell, it is a mix. Climate change is undeniable and exacerbates the weather. But the flooding is officially described as a natural disaster.


      Comment by welltemperedear — August 30, 2018 @ 9:32 am

  9. No ideas on disaster music for you, Ear, but I did see Wisconsin’s flooding mentioned twice on the national CBS evening new twice in the the last week, complete with footage, so don’t feel left out.


    Comment by Mike and Jean — August 30, 2018 @ 7:54 am

    • Thank you Mike and Jean.
      That is indeed good news about the news.
      Both NBC and NPR have done fine jobs with local newscasts, but so far I have not seen or heard anything nothing on their national newscasts.
      The Ear


      Comment by welltemperedear — August 30, 2018 @ 9:29 am

  10. Warning on the Hovhaness Symphony: the mountain blows its top at 19 minutes into the recording. One can almost picture the eruptions, lava flows, and rocks being hurled into the air. Terrific percussion effects that would challenge any orchestra. A great accompnying march for about 5 minutes too.


    Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2018 @ 12:59 am

  11. The UW Concert CHoir performed Luna Woolf’s “Après moi, le déluge” by Luna Woolf, written after the Katrina floods in New Orleans. It was recorded for Oxingale Records and was performed live at Mills in 2006 and 2017

    Professor Beverly Taylor
    Director of Choral Activities
    University of Wisconsin-Madison


    Comment by Beverly Taylor — August 30, 2018 @ 12:33 am

    • Not sure if this is the same recording. But it’s over at Youtube:


      Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2018 @ 1:03 am

  12. Music composed for natural disaster:

    Alan Hovhaness, Symphony #50, “Mt. St. Helens”. A wonderful symphony that illustrates the power of nature, creation etc. It was inspired and commissioned as a result of the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption in 1980. Wonderful percussion and effects.

    For rain and floods, how about:

    1) Chopin, Prelude, Opus 28, “The Raindrop”;

    2) Liszt, Les Preludes;

    3) Finzi, “Earth & Air & Rain”;

    4) Debussy, ” Jardins sous la pluie” part of Estampes and pictures a French garden deluged with rain

    5) Brahms, Violin Sonata #1, Opus 78, “Regensonate” (Rain Sonata) for piano and violin

    Hovhaness link:


    Comment by fflambeau — August 30, 2018 @ 12:31 am

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