I have a longstanding interest in classical music and just recently I have been mulling over the links between music, habitat conservation and Great Garden Give, the summer fundraising campaign of World Land Trust (WLT).
The other day I was listening to a programme about Guiseppe Verdi on BBC Radio Three.
I learned that Verdi wrote detailed instruction manuals for the production of his operas, many of which were published by the music publishers Casa Ricordi. Interestingly, the radio presenter dismissed out of hand the idea of using Verdi’s production notes. Apparently it would be unacceptable to a modern audience. (I was disappointed that the presenter didn’t go on to explain why period costumes are not acceptable, but violins are…)
Verdi was not alone in preparing production notes for his operas. Richard Wagner, the other leading opera composer of the 19th century, did the same.
Wagner was obsessive about the whole performance. His were not simply operas, they were ‘music dramas’ with every part of the performance considered by the composer. Wagner also wrote the librettos, and controlled all aspects of the settings. He even had the orchestra in a special pit.
Wagner bequeathed his performance instructions to his heirs, and they were fiercely protected for many years. But once the works were out of copyright anyone could try their hand at staging them.
Since then there have been various modernist interpretations of Wagner’s operas and today it’s unlikely that anyone would dream of using the original staging instructions.
So, what’s the connection between music and conservation? The common theme here is tampering with the original, and to what extent intervention is possible, acceptable or desirable.
Today virtually every habitat on the planet has been tampered with by humans. In some cases, it would be impossible to return an ecosystem to its original state, just as it is impossible to go back to a totally original performance of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, or Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
In Britain, for example, we simply don’t have enough information to restore original ecosystems because the environment has so changed that it is now impossible. But most 20th century opera can be performed much as the composer intended, and the examples of Wagner and Verdi mean that we can get pretty close to the original. (And, in terms of both music and conservation, I happen to believe that reconstructing the original is desirable.)
Likewise, in the overseas reserves supported by World Land Trust, there is enough original habitat remaining to give a very good picture of how the landscape looked before human intervention.
Great Garden Give
So where’s the link to Great Garden Give?
WLT’s current fundraising campaign highlights the parallels between gardening and conservation.
As gardeners know, every piece of ground needs managing in some way, even the wild corners. The same goes for wildlife reserves, which require ‘wildlife gardening on a big scale’, as Bill Oddie described it in a recent article about Great Garden Give in the Telegraph.
Human intervention is necessary for conservation and the activities of our overseas partners are designed specifically to preserve natural habitats as close to the ‘original’ as possible, and to restore them where necessary.
As well as shedding light on conservation, Great Garden Give encourages supporters to make a donation to WLT to save an area of threatened habitat the same size as their garden. If you’ve read this far and haven’t yet tried out our Great Garden Give calculator, it is just a click away.