The Skylark

Illustrations of Glinka-Balakirev: The Skylark

Seven Illustrations:

  1. Terrestrial skylark walking through stubble
  2. Helicopter skylark taking off
  3. Larks soaring towards the sun
  4. Evening lark singing above village after sunset, with fox skirting woods
  5. Larks in rain
  6. Nesting lark in hollow, lined with grasses and leaves
  7. Larks descend to earth in measured cadence

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The soaring, singing skylark is a terrestrial bird, passing the day on the ground, crouching and hiding and assimilating the colours of the earth, dry grasses, stubbled, ploughed and seeded fields. Fields are its winter habitat and where, in the beginning of March, it hollows out its nest and lays its eggs. Here it finds its food of grain, grasses and seeds, insects, caterpillars, snails and worms.

But as the spring advances and the sun gets higher in the sky, the skylark takes off, helicopter-like, from the ground, to soar higher and higher towards the sun. The skylark’s lofty flight can last from ten minutes to one hour. As it rises, the lark turns towards the wind, its wings at first fluttering and irregular, then reaching upwards, slanting, making curves and part circles till, at a high elevation, it wheels in ever widening circles, all the while singing its heavenly song to the sun above and earth below. Far beyond the eye can see, long after the sun has set, the listener hears its song until, returning to roost, the lark starts its measured descent.

Little wonder that this ordinary-looking brown bird with its magnificent song and flight has inspired so many poets, writers and musicians who shared with the skylark its northern habitat. Starting with 2 bars of single melody notes in the key of B-Flat Minor, Russian composer, Mila Balakirev, captured the lark’s miraculous, melodious flight in his transcription of a romance, based on a folk song, by fellow-Russian, Mikhail Glinka. The simple soulful theme, played andantino in the relative major key of D flat, sings above a regular walking bass rhythm. Soon, the piece moves like the lark’s flight, octave by octave, into the higher reaches of the keyboard, whirling and trilling upwards and downwards, joining other larks in bigger circles and sweeps, poignant and joyous until, with chords and voices, the larks arrive at the zenith of their glorious ascent.

From such heights, the larks descend in the gloaming evening light, singing their memorable theme, falling with quieter trills and chords, and slowing flutters, as the composer paints their return to earth to roost for another dark night.