Outdoors: Birds' farewell

Sep 2, 2020

Back in 1772, playing in Haydn's orchestra at Prince Esterhazy's summer palace probably seemed like a pretty sweet gig.

But as the long season wore on, the musicians were more than ready to return home to their wives and families.

According to the familiar story, rather than pleading the musicians' case to the Prince directly, Haydn wrote the work that has come to be known as the Farewell Symphony.

During the final movement, one by one, the musicians stopped playing, snuffed out their candles and left the stage.

For awhile, the piece seemed unchanged, but as more and more musicians disappeared, the music became softer and less involved. By the end of the symphony, only two violinists were playing.

Fall bird migration reminds me of the Farewell Symphony. In contrast with spring, when each returning bird is cause for celebration, in autumn, the birds just sort of slip away.

Birders don't even notice at first, but in reviewing daily field notes, they realize that many of our breeding birds are gone. The morning bird chorus is softer and less involved. Eventually, only the winter residents are left on the natural stage.

The farewell is gradual until one day, at dawn, it dawns on us that summer is really over.