Explore nature and discover pieces of music that were written about things we may find or experience within our world.

Over the centuries, many composers have taken inspiration from the sounds found in nature. Learn about what elements composers have used to re-create sounds and pictures in their music.

The weather

‘Storm’ Interlude from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten 

Benjamin Britten was an English composer who was born and lived in Suffolk. He started composing as a child and by the age of 18 he had written more than 700 pieces!

He wrote the opera Peter Grimes in 1945. It’s about a community struggling to make their living by the sea. Peter Grimes is a fisherman but the locals think of him as an outsider and don’t trust him. The orchestral interludes including ‘Storm’ are sandwiched in between the sung acts to build the drama and suspense of the story.

  • Listen out for the thunderous timpani and raging brass at the beginning as the storm swells. Also listen for when the harp plays representing the sun shining through the storm clouds.


‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’ from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg 

Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian composer who lived from 1843 to 1907. ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’ is taken from one of Grieg’s bigger pieces of music which tells the story of a boy called Peer Gynt. The boy falls in love with a girl who he is not allowed to marry. Very upset, he runs away to the mountains to have a think and gets captured by ugly nasty trolls who take him to their king. He tries to escape in the middle of the night, but the trolls hear him and chase him through the mountain corridors.

  • Listen out for the strings (violins, violas, cellos and double basses) playing the sounds of Peer Gynt tiptoeing and running to escape. The tiptoeing sound is an effect called pizzicato where string players pluck the strings of their instrument rather than use a bow.

The sea

‘La Mer’ by Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy was a French composer who lived from 1862 to 1918. ‘La Mer’ translates in English to the sea. Debussy had fond childhood memories of the beauties of the sea, but when composing ‘La Mer’ he drew inspiration from art, “preferring the seascapes available in painting and literature” to the real sea.

Can you hear the instruments sound like the crashing of the waves?


‘Le Loriot’ from Catalogue d’Oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen

Olivier Messiaen was a French composer who really loved birds. He had a passion for bird songs which he recorded and transcribed into music. In 1958, he completed a collection of thirteen pieces for piano, cataloguing many different birds, as well as their habitat, rural landscape and scenery.

First, listen to a recording of the sound the Eurasian Golden Oriole (Loriot in French) makes.

Now see if you can recognise the bird song in Messiaen’s piano piece…

A sound walk

More recently, artists have recorded sounds from the world around them which they have incorporated into their musical creations.

In 2020, Opera North commissioned the accordionist and composer Martin Green to write a piece on the theme of walking home. ‘In A Place of Crisps and Pianos’, Martin Green uses field recordings of sounds he recorded on his walks, spoken word and the trumpet and tenor horn of Laura Jurd. If you listen carefully, you might even hear a dog barking!

Explore the world around you

  • When you go out for a walk, are you listening to what’s around you?

  • Next time you go out for a walk, see if you can identify the different sounds you hear.

  • Maybe think about what’s different about the sound. Is it high or low pitch? Is it long or short? Is it rough or smooth

  • Can you picture what’s making the sound?

Here is a grid of some of the different sounds you may hear on your walk. You may only hear some and not all of them. When you come back from your next walk, you can tick off the sounds you have heard. Download the grid »

You can even add more sounds if you want and share them with us on social media using #ONLittleSchool. And remember, you don’t have to actually see it to have heard it!


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