Songs about bugs

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This probably would have made a better post just before Halloween!

The Spider’s Banquet is the first and the most ingenious of Albert Roussel’s three ballets. It is brief and seeped in the impressionistic style of Debussy and Ravel, although unique in its simplicity of melody. Roussel completed the ballet in a few months in 1912 for the Teatre des Arts in Paris, where it was debuted by conductor Gabriel Grovlez.

The story

In the beginning, the Spider is interrupted by a group of ants, who attempt to carry a rose petal. In order the worms and the butterfly appear, the latter quickly caught by the spider. While the spider celebrates his catch with a lively dance, the ants battle a cadre of praying mantises over a slice of apple. The spider snares the praying mantises in his web, and the next appearance is of a waltzing may fly who is captured with ease.

Having assembled his feast, the spider chooses to eat the butterfly first, only to find a praying mantis has beat him to the tasty snack. The other insects escape and prepare a funeral for the may fly, one by one leaving the scene.


The premiere of The Spider’s Banquet preceded the famously controversial premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by only a few months. Both would achieve widespread fame for the ballets, although for very different reasons. Roussel was seen by critics as an exemplar of the French tradition, while Stravinsky became known as an iconoclast, pushing boundaries until he, like Roussel, embraced neoclassicism.

Roussel’s two additional ballets were of far greater scale, taking for their subject stories from classical mythology. The second of these, Aeneas, was one of his last works, completed in 1935. For Aeneas, Roussel augmented the orchestra with a large choir, much as Ravel had done with Daphis and Chloe. although he retained the compunctual time-keeping and functional tonality that distinguishes him in the French tradition. Roussel would never become as famous as Debussy and Ravel, and his later works are today performed and recorded far less often than The Spider’s Banquet.

The notes to a 1971 recording on France’s Erato Records report that Roussel was hesitant to take the commission to compose the ballet for the Teatre des Arts, and did so only at the urging of his wife, Blanche. Jacques Rouche, the Theatre’s director, had been inspired by the popular work of Jean Henri Fabre, today considered the father of modern entomology — which, of course, is the study of insects.

It often bothered the composer that the popularity of The Spider’s Banquet eclipsed that of his symphonies in the neoclassical style, but it did not prevent him from conducting a performance of the ballet for record, the only recording he would make, in 1928.

The Spider’s Banquet by Albert Roussel, performed by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and conducted by Ernest Ansermet.


Composer Gene Gutchë was born in Berlin but spent much of his life here in the Twin Cities after moving here to study at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s.

Gutchë’s Bongo Divertimento was commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s first musical director Leopold Sipe. His ten year tenure is characterized by similar such ventures — in fact, the SPCO’s first program stated its intention to “devote the major portion of its programs to the wonderful literature, both classic and contemporary, that is not ordinarily played by large symphonies.”

The recording was made before an audience in 1962, and was released by the SPCO itself. It is presumably one of their rarest recordings, although it has been issued on CD by the Schubert Club. If you listen carefully, you can hear audience members laughing near the end of the short work’s third movement.

Most of Gutchë’s music harks to the romantic era, although there is a definite Stravinsky-an flair to some of his later music. Passage in Bongo Divertimento presage Jerry Goldsmith’s groundbreaking atonal score to the science fiction classic Planet of the Apes, recorded six years later.

The piece is divided into five movements, described as such in the album’s liner notes:

Perpetuo sets a pace for solo bongos.

Pettifoggery is a type of “con game,” a moment of dishonest jazz interrupted by the sobering strains in the orchestra.

Blue Bottle Fly is a musical duel between a soloist and a pest.

Pasticco is in imitation. A Muted trumpet sounds a Neoclassical theme against which the timbales strum a bygone rhythm.

Magpie presents two birds chattering noisily in the cool of a summer morning while their neighbors in the forest protest.

spiderYour friendly neighborhood record shop isn’t just a temporary home to hundreds of thousands of LPs and a little black and white dog. It’s also the habitat for the spookiest, most fearless spider in the world.

And he’s decided his favorite place to hang out is next to this Who album tacked on the wall. We’ve grown accustomed to the fuzzy li’l guy, so we’re hoping he doesn’t meet the same fate as Boris the Spider.

It’s tough to be a bee. People are always shooing you away and screaming when you come around to say hello, and you’re just trying to do your job. And its an important job, too. According to a UN study quoted by Bee Guardian (here) our little black and yellow friends pollinate seventy percent of  the 100 crops that supply food to ninety percent of the world. Thats a complicated fact with a lot of numbers but also really stunning when you think about it. So the next time you see a bee, pat him on his little head and say ‘thanks!’ or better yet sing him a song…

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“Honey Bee” by Tom Petty

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“Honey Bee” by Muddy Waters


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(Images from Bone #7, February 1994 – Fone Bone discovers the bees in the mysterious valley are larger than expected)

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“Honey from the Bee” and “Love Buzz” by Willie and the Bees


Sting in this old Bee by Hank Thompson

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“A Sleepin’ Bee” by the Bill Evans Trio

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“Never Swat a Fly” by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band

dont bug me baby

“Don’t Bug Me Baby” by Milton Allen

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“Love Bug Crawl” by Jimmy Edwards

If you and your new bee friend settle in for a visit you could invite him for tea (with honey, of course). While visiting on your patio, show him the greatest website ever made, he’s sure to enjoy seeing it.

honey beehoney bee

“Honey Bee” by Billy Myles

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“Honey Bee” by Lee Pepper and his Orchestra

back in your life

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“Buzz Buzz Buzz” and “Hey There Little Insect” by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers

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B Side by Loudon Wainwright III

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