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For about three years the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...
kept a pet starling
Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds in the family Sturnidae. The name "Sturnidae" comes from the Latin word for starling, sturnus. Many Asian species, particularly the larger ones, are called mynas, and many African species are known as glossy starlings because of their iridescent...
. The first record of the starling is the entry Mozart made in his expense book when he bought it on 27 May 1784:
- starling bird. 34 kreutzer
The Kreuzer, in English usually kreutzer, was a silver coin and unit of currency existing in the southern German states prior to the unification of Germany, and in Austria.-Early history:...
- That was fine!
The music Mozart jotted down in the book is fairly close to the opening theme of the third movement of his Piano Concerto No. 17 in G
The Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, KV. 453, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was written in 1784.The work is orchestrated for solo piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings...
, K. 453, which Mozart had completed a few weeks earlier (12 April). Mozart presumably taught the bird to sing this tune in the pet store, or wherever it was that he bought it. According to Mozart's transcription, the starling incorrectly inserted a fermata
A fermata is an element of musical notation indicating that the note should be sustained for longer than its note value would indicate...
on the last beat of the first full measure, and sang G sharp instead of G in the following measure.
Mozart probably was not joking when he made the transcription, because starlings are known to have a very strong capacity for vocal mimicry.
The bird Mozart brought home lived as a pet in his household for three years and died on 4 June 1787. Mozart buried the creature in the back yard and wrote a commemorative poem for the occasion. Deutsch 1965 calls the poem "serio-comic". However, West and King note, based on their extensive experience, that starling pets interact closely with their human keepers, often causing their owners to bond with them. Thus, Mozart's expression of sorrow may have been quite sincere.