Composers’ Appropriation of Pied Butcherbird Song: Henry Tate’s “undersong of Australia” Comes of Age

Hollis Taylor


This article surveys the range of strategies employed by composers who make overt reference to birdsong as a model, with a particular focus on the pied butcherbird. The species plays a conspicuous role in the appropriation of Australian birdsong by composers, as first proposed by Henry Tate in the early twentieth century. The interrogation of birdsong also has currency in analytical practice, provoking issues such as musical universals and the role of transcription and analysis in composition. In human compositional design, pied butcherbird’s protean vocalisations are well represented as the source in a myriad of arenas. Tate’s vision of composers tapping into Australia’s birdsong resources is materialising.


Henry Tate, zoömusicology, birdsong, pied butcherbird, Messiaen

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ISSN: 1836-8336