Charles Butler’s The feminine monarchy, or, The history of bees first appeared as a small duodecimo in 1609; it was reprinted, with considerable additions and alterations, as a quarto in 1627, and again in 1634. Though it was intended merely as a bee-keeper’s manual, its beauty and insight render it worthy of a place among the renowned works of nineteenth-century poetry.
While in most matters the work is extraordinarily accurate, it becomes questionable when Butler turns to music. His account of a certain point in the hive’s life cycle might be thought to credit bees with the powers of a masterful composer. Butler’s depiction of this event—which he refers to as “the bees’ madrigal”—appears to present a carefully constructed four-part chorus.
This according to “Charles Butler and the music of the bees” by Gerald R. Hayes (The musical times LXVI/988 [1 June 1925] pp. 512–515). This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above, some of Butler’s notations from the later, enlarged edition (note that verso and recto considerations result in part of the notation appearing upside-down). Below, a performance of the work.