The Glorious Twelfth

Unless you find it on the shelf in Waitrose, bagging a Grouse may well be quite a challenge.  Unless, that is, you are the type of person who thinks that New Years Day falls on 12 August each year. If you are already lost and confused do bear with me.  For shooting fans, this is the sacred date which marks the start of the 121-day grouse shooting season – commonly known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’.

Way back in 1773, some men in wigs decided that the hunting of red birds shouldn’t take place between the tenth day in December and the following Twelfth day of August.    This law was then further clarified in 1831 at which point shooting was banned on a Sunday. This of course also meant that the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ can sometimes in fact be the Thirteenth as the season cannot start on a Sunday, as was the case in 2018.

Today bird shooting is apparently big business. Scotland generates around £30 million a year from shooting tourism,  with the UK overall netting around £150 million. The red grouse, in particular, is apparently the most popular bird to shoot, since it is uniquely native to Britain.

All of which brings me on to Olivier Messiaen who used birdsong extensively in his compositions. His Catalogue d’oiseaux is a seven-book set of solo piano pieces based on birdsong. His orchestral piece Réveil des Oiseaux is composed almost entirely of birdsong. Many of his other compositions, including Quatuor pour la fin du temps, similarly integrate birdsong.

In the world of Jazz, Charlie Parker, known as “Bird”, played fast, flowing melodic lines, with titles such as “Yardbird Suite”, “Ornithology”, “Bird Gets the Worm”, and “Bird of Paradise”.

Birds in music, can in fact be traced all the way back to the 16th century with the “realistic” cuckoo in Janequin’s Le Chant Des Oiseaux.

As well as music involving bird song there is of course also a wide range of music linked to hunting. Blow Thy Horn Hunter is attributed to the composer William Cornysh and recounts the felling of several deer (all of which prove quite resilient to the charms of death). The 17th-century equivalent of the “one that got away”, it has a splendid choral backing and a distinct crumhorn line.

Haydn Symphony no.73 in D Major is another obvious choice. It is often known by the subtitle La chasse (The Hunt) due to the hunting horn calls in the final movement. The hunting melody of the finale is a quotation from La Chasse du cerf, a Divertissement for solo voices, chorus, and instrumental ensemble by the eighteenth century French composer Jean-Baptiste Morin. Morin himself drew upon the popular Sourcillade (or Vue) penned by André Danican Philidor in the first decade of the 18th century. Haydn’s theme was therefore widely recognisable as a hunting motif.

And so there you have it. If you plan to go out hunting this season, hopefully there is some inspiration for music to listen to while you shoot.


Jules Addison used to go out and about to run choirs before Covid-19 but now stays at home making videos of people singing in boxes and writing nonsense on blogs.  Jules does not condone or support hunting on any level so if you are an animal rights activist please divert your attentions elsewhere!

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