Animals understand music better than we do…(Stravinsky)

Classical with Claws

by Johanna Paulsson


translated by Henrik Karlsson, Music Therapist

The benefits of music are not limited to human beings. Playlists and music composed with pets in mind are in vogue. Opus Magazine has talked to composers and musicians who are used to audiences that bark and meow.

Stravinsky is said to have claimed that children and animals understood his music better than human grown-ups. Perhaps it is not so strange then that David Teie- ordinarily a cellist in the National Symphony Orchestra- has written scores with cat-listeners in mind. In November, radio station Classical FM broadcasted a show called Pet Sounds in collaboration with a shelter for cats and dogs. Studies have shown that classical music played at kennels can reduce stress levels in dogs, while fastidious kitties seem to prefer other genres.

With its even tone distribution, the piano seems particularly suited to pet-music. (Walwyn)

Washington, D.C., is also home to dog-loving pianist Karen Walwyn. Besides teaching and performing as a concert pianist she also runs the record company Allegro Paws: Classical Music for Pets. Karen Walwyn is an accomplished composer herself but when it comes to the pet-audience her idea is to present classical music- from Baroque to Impressionism- written by others in a way that meets the animals’ particular needs. Her records are adapted to different situations, for example dogs who are alone at home or who are afraid of fireworks.

When I put together the music, I combine form and temperament to facilitate relaxation or alertness, she says. In our conversation, she shares plenty of dog anecdote from her own life as well as from others.

Allegro Paws was founded in memory of her German Shepherd Miles. As a puppy, Miles would lie at my feet while I was practicing a piece by Schumann. Once, I got this idea to try singing to him. Miles got up and sniffed my mouth and looked at me very strangely and then left the room. After I got over the shock of him leaving, I decided to see what would happen if I started playing again without calling him. He came back immediately and settled down in his favorite spot.

Why not just put on NPR?

Some wonder why can’t we just leave the radio on for pets. But take NPR for example, where the music spans from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to Tchaikovsky’s symphonies to Mozart sonatas, the dynamics and tempos go up and down all the time and that just causes stress.

Composers That Have Left Paw Impressions

It is said that Domenico Scarlatti’s cat Pulcinella stepped on the keyboard, thereby giving the Italian composer the idea for cembalo sonata K30/L499 in G minor, later known as “The Cat Fugue”.

In his later years, British composer Edward Elgar had two dogs. The orchestral piece “Mina” is named after his beloved Cairn terrier.

French impressionist Maurice Ravel was a true friend of felines, and particularly enchanted by Siamese cats. One can tell from the meowing in “Duo miaulé” from the magical opera “The Child and the Enchantments”.

To read more, check out KLASSISKT MED KLÖS, MAGASINET OM KLASSISK MUSIK & OPERA (Opus Magazine) by Johanna Paulsson, June 2019.