Top Ten: Animals in Modern Music, starring Ketzel the Cat


The top animal in modern music today is…Ketzel the Cat!

Immortalized by a jury of young composers (and egged on by Guy Livingston) in Paris twenty years ago, Ketzel is now posthumously honored by a marvelous new book:

performance by Guy Livingston, pianist; composed by Ketzel the cat


Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Composer Moshe Cotel lives in a noisy building in the middle of a noisy street in the middle of a noisy city, but everything is music to his ears. One day, he hears a new noise: a frightened kitten mewling. He names her Ketzel Yiddish for cat and takes her home, where she spends happy hours listening to Moshe playing piano. An announcement of the Paris New Music Review’s contest arrives in the mail, calling for compositions of 60 seconds or less. Moshe finds this impossible until Ketzel creeps across the piano keys and plays a lovely tune with a clear beginning, middle, and end. And it’s only 21 seconds long! Piece for Piano: Four Paws, by Ketzel Cotel, wins special mention in the contest. When Moshe and Ketzel appear for its debut, no one believes she wrote it, but Four Paws becomes famous, even earning her $19.72 in royalties. Based on a true incident, this delightfully told story is unlikely and adorable in equal parts. Bates’ watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations feature an unanthropomorphic kitty whose inquisitive and quizzical nature will be familiar to all cat owners. The author’s note offers all the answers readers will want. An absolute charmer!
Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2015 Booklist, Copyright American Library Association.

And other animals:

Yes, we all know about the swan of Saint-Saëns, and Mussorgsky’s chickens, but can you name ten American compositions about animals?


not Ketzel


Here’s a start – my first attempt at a top ten, based on part-one of this series. Make a suggestion – and I’ll broadcast it!

Top-Ten Modern Compositions about Animals

  1. William Bolcom: The Dead Moth Tango
  2. Henry Cowell: Because The Cat
  3. Charles Ives: Like A Sick Eagle
  4. Charles Griffes: The White Peacock
  5. Bill Evans: The Peacocks
  6. Elliott Carter: The Minotaur
  7. Aaron Copland: I Bought me a Cat
  8. George Crumb: Voice of the Whale
  9. Cathy Berberian: Morsicathy (thanks to Lorenda Ramou for this sugestion!)
  10. William Bolcom: Serpent’s Kiss


  • George Antheil: the Rat (from Dreams ballet);
  • William Bolcom: 3 Songs from the Wind in the Willows, also including a rat’s song;
  • George Antheil: Serpents for Pianola

Miller Theater and the Jack Quartet – going to the dogs



The aural spaces created by chirping crickets, croaking frogs, singing birds, squawking gulls, mooing cows, howling wolves, not to mention singing whales: how could we in our electronic age not be tempted to generate their irresistible charms without being dependent on the benevolence of their producers or having to move to the often inhospitable regions where they work their wonders?

Let us, hence, replace the real sounds of real bells with recordings of the croaking of individual frogs. And let us have it rendered through hundreds of little loudspeakers spread over the floors of the four arms of the San Marco in Venice. That we are dealing with aural imitations of frogs would immediately be apparent from the fact hat their croaking was heard in a basilica and not in a swamp. But the presence of frogs in the San Marco is not entirely improbable. Whence the shadow of doubt would only disappear when our obligatory instinctive search for the source of the sound would reveal that the sound is produced by little loudspeakers. But whether the sound comes from real frogs or from loudspeakers, in both cases the croaking is situated in a real, not in an imitated space: staying under the central dome, we really hear the frogs on the left and the right, before and behind us, nearby and far away. And, just as on Saint Peter’s Square, aural space would not entirely coincide with visual space: through echo and the merger of identical sounds, we would equally witness the epiphany of an – although still real – aural space in the real visual space of the basilica.

Such first unlinking from visual space would probably be a mere prelude to a further ‘putting between brackets’ of the basilica: in our imagination we would soon proceed to stuff the real space with images of a swamp. The evocation of frogs through the imitation of their aural appearance would extend to the filling up of the real aural space with representations of an absent visual space.

We could proceed even further and, next to the frogs, also evoke space itself. Instead of having all the loudspeakers render the same croaking with the same intensity, we could have the volume diminished in proportion to the distance from the central dome. We would then have the impression that the frogs were croaking beyond the confines of the basilica.



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