Classic Mornings

Don’t Let the Starling Play the Mozart Concerto!


There’s no way!  But then again, maybe it really did happen.

I heard him say it on the radio. Mozart taught a bird to play one of his piano concertos. And the bird became a superstar! At first, it sounded like something out of a Moe Willems children’s book. But the more I thought about it, it’s probably true.

I’ve heard so many amazing stories about Mozart that I’m ready to believe he was able to do anything – even fly!  Birds already fly. They don’t play pianos. But it seems this one did. Piano keys are heavy enough that it takes a bit of effort even for people to get accustomed to properly making music with them. How in the world did Mozart get the bird to do that?  I’ll bet he used bread crumbs as a part of his training. You know how some parents write the letters of the music notes on the keys when a child is first learning to play the piano?  It’s probably something like that with breadcrumbs and birds.

Did Mozart take the bird on tour and have it perform in front of kings and queens like he did when he was a child? And were there times when an emperor was impressed like in the Hans Christian Anderson story about the emperor and the nightingale?...


I imagined such thoughts by one or more listeners recently when I played the finale of Mozart’s 17th piano concerto. Sometimes Classic Mornings is on in the background while people are involved in other activities. Indeed, there have been times while I’ve been driving and have heard only a portion of something that was said on the radio. Before I was able to confirm what I heard or didn’t hear, I may well have blown it out of proportion. So I imagined someone who sort of half-heard me tell the story and take it for an imaginative flight. 

The fact is that Mozart did claim that he taught a starling the simple tune that opens the finale of the concerto. He certainly didn’t teach the bird how to play it on the piano. And even though the starling has become famous because of the Mozart tale, it never experienced superstardom in its time. With all the incredible stories about Mozart, somebody might indeed believe that he taught a bird to play his piano concerto.

It couldn’t happen with any other composer. Mozart is probably the superhero of classical music. And if you think it’s rather outlandish to apply a word that has connotations of strength and power to Mozart, know that the famous Austrian composer may well have humbled many a musician over the centuries.  I have heard performers admit that Mozart’s music is deceivingly simple and indeed challenging. Some wait until the 2nd half of a concert in order to warm up before tackling the Mozart works.

Many people turn to Mozart’s music during difficult times. Maybe it’s the simplicity that’s communicated in that music which helps to lift spirits, offer a bit of consolation or provide an environment for reflection. A study once suggested that those who listened to his Sonata in D major for 2 pianos, K. 448 actually scored better on exams than those who didn’t listen to it beforehand.

Yes, all of this comes to mind with the theme of our fall fundraising campaign which celebrates listeners as superheroes for, among other things, keeping classical music on the radio in central Illinois. It’s not just music on the radio. It’s music that challenges us, sparks our creativity and expands our knowledge. In addition to entertaining, it inspires listeners of all ages. Anybody who provides that resource to a community deserves to be commended. And stepping forward to do that, knowing that there are so many who listen to the music service without supporting it, makes contributing listeners heroes of sorts for keeping it on the air in our time and for generations to come.

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to become a contributor, please consider it today. There’s room for an entire community of superhero supporters! Call 217-244-9455 or go online to and make a gift before September 30th.