Canine Crescendos: Classical Works Inspired by Dogs

As we power our way through the so-called dog days of summer, it seems only fitting to reflect on canine influences in classical masterpieces. After all, dogs are an important part of life for many of us today. Surely canine companions have found their way into the hearts of at least a few composers?

As it turns out, our four-legged friends have indeed been featured in or inspired some great works. Here are four classical compositions in which man’s (and woman’s!) best friend takes center stage.

George Gershwin walks the dog
Written in 1937, George Gershwin’s “Walking the Dog” is a delightful orchestral piece originally composed for the film “Shall We Dance.” This lighthearted composition features a jaunty and playful tune that captures the spirit of a dog being walked. In the film, Fred Astaire mirrors of the jaunty feel of the music as he desperately tries to attract the attention of (a notably unimpressed) Ginger Rogers as she walks her dog – watch the scene here.

Bernd Richard Deutsch imagines the canine point of view
In 2011, composer Bernd Richard Deutsch created quite an unusual work in which he envisions a day in the life of a dog. Imagine a musical portrayal of running, jumping, sniffing, growling, howling, and even dreaming. We’re not sure why he called it “Mad Dog,” but he did share this: “It was sounds from my everyday life that had an inspirational influence on the composition.”

Sergei Prokofiev’s fairy tale comes alive
Although the titular character in Sergei Prokofiev’s classic work “Peter and the Wolf” is a wolf rather than a domestic dog, we must include this beloved piece in the list. Intended to introduce youngsters to some of the musical instruments found in an orchestra, each character in the story is represented by a specific instrument or group of instruments; French horns portray the character of the wolf. This performance by the Academy of London Orchestra is narrated by John Gielgud.

Bright Sheng explores the legend of a dog
When creating “Concerto for Orchestra Zodiac Tales” in 2005, American composer Bright Sheng was inspired by the Chinese zodiac. He wrote the concerto’s fifth movement, “The Tomb of the Soulful Dog,” in memory of his mother, Alice Cheng, who was born in the Year of the Dog and passed away on February 8, 2005. The fable of the Tomb of the Soulful Dog comes from the era of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.220 A.D.) and is about a dog who sacrificed himself to save Emperor Liu Bang’s army from a fire.

Classical music has the extraordinary ability to capture the essence of the world around us. These are just a few of the works that capture the essence and endearing qualities of our four-legged friends.