Mystery score

Mystery score

Monday, January 25, 2010

Question from a Reader: Airplane Music of a Sort

Reader Lorin Alexander asks:
Anyone know of classical music (either historical or contemporary) that imitates sounds of airplane--either take-off or ambient sound inside plane?

I am looking for acoustic, or if electronic, having an acoustic component also. I am familiar with several train simulations treated classically (Honegger's 'Pacific 231', Villa Lobos 'The Little Train of the Caipira' , Steve Reich's 'Different Trains') but have not come across any plane music.

This has a familiar sound; something by Varese? Anyone else have ideas? If so, please post in the comments.

10 comments:

Sarah said...

The best one I know is Leo Ornstein's 1913 Suicide in an Airplane, for piano, which begins with a low ostinato evoking the propellers of a small plane. Ornstein got the idea for this piece from a newspaper article. (I was scheduled to play it at the Phillips Collection right after September 11, 2001, but took it off the program for obvious reasons). The score is on the Leo Ornstein website. There's also George Antheil's 1921 "Airplane" Sonata. Marc Blitzstein wrote a symphony called "The Airborne," about the history of aviation. I think composers have used airplane propellers... time to do some research...

Osbert Parsley said...

Antheil also uses an airplane propeller in his famous Ballet Mechanique of 1925. The only other relevant example that occurs to me is Miaskovsky's Symphony No. 16, subtitled the "Aviation" symphony. The piece doesn't actually imitate airplane noises, however; the piece is supposed to be a tribute to Soviet aviators in the wake of a 1930s airliner crash.

Kyle L said...

A few years ago Evan Ziporyn wrote War Chant. Rather than merely imitate the mechanical processes of flight, it seems to evoke the emotional experiences of person in a plane. So the beginning is uncertain with perhaps some nervousness with atonal lines akin to Xenakis. Once safely in the air everything is peachy, complete with jazzy brass and hawaiian slide guitar. The piece also literally has an arch shape, ascending lines at the beginning, and a descent at the end.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ooooh, this is all great, thank you!

Tim said...

During WWII, Martinu wrote a work called "Thunderbolt P-47," a circa ten-minute scherzo for orchestra. The P-47 was, of course, a fighter plane. I don't know what the work sounds like, unfortunately, so I can't tell you if there are actual plane noises in it. But there seems to be enough info online about the piece -- perhaps you can find out.

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone. These are terrific ideas!

Lorin

Dean Frey said...

Speaking of Villa-Lobos, there's his 1950 piece for Flute & Cello called "Assobio a Jato", "The Jet Whistle". This imitates the sound of a jet engine.

Michael Walsh said...

Not a classical work, but in the original 1938 radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds", the scene from a bomber plane had the cellos and violas simply do a loud tremolo on their C strings. The sound of the crashing plane later was done quite effectively by strings in slow upward glissandi.

I'm betting there's a recorded film score somewhere that uses the same trick.

Matthias said...

Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet makes even use of real airplanes.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I even KNEW about the Helicopter Quartet!