The swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The phrase refers to an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before their death, having been silent (or alternatively, not so musical) during most of their lifetime. This belief, whose basis in actuality is long-debated, had become proverbial in ancient Greece by the 3rd century BC and was reiterated many times in later Western poetry and art..

Here is a quote from a unique article about the swan song, published in an early 19th Century music publication

‘In the Hebrides, of one of which I am a native, the swan is not uncommon. There is in Argyleshire a loch, or lake, called Lochanell, or the Lake of the Swans, which gives title to a considerable family of the Campbells. Swans frequent this and other lakes in that country; and it is the current opinion (by no means a matter of question or debate) amongst all ranks of the people, that they utter certain plaintive, yet melodious notes. The voice of the swan upon the floods is frequently introduced in their little songs to express the complaints and grief of a fair one, on the loss or absence of a lover. Amongst a people not highly polished, poetical similes are generally from nature: in nature, therefore, I should think there is some foundation for this so frequent a comparison. I do not remember that the author of Fingal made use of this simile.

‘In the month of October, 1769, upon their return to the inlets of the sea (for I was told they disappear in summer), I myself heard, at different times, one simple but plaintive note, the birds being at a distance on the water. I do not recollect to have been told anything concerning the swans’ vernal song in particular, but I remember it was said, that at other times their notes were various. But that the following tune—Gath nah cala, or the Song, or Note of the Swan—has been familiar to me from my infancy, and to every one else in the country who has an ear for music, I am as certain of as of any other fact I can mention. It is the first tune, on account of its simplicity, that musical scholars begin with, in the same manner as the King’s Anthem is first taught in England.’

The editor of the publication states:

"Here the correspondence ended without reply or rejoinder. For my own part, it would be errant presumption to venture an opinion on a point already discussed by so many learned men, particularly as I have no fact within my own knowledge to found even an argument upon; but I cannot, nevertheless, help thinking that the evidence is in favour of the affirmative. Perhaps in its wide circulation your miscellany may fall into the hands of some person competent, from his own knowledge, to confirm or contradict the statement above quoted; though it is far from improbable, that within the last fifty years the march of civilization may have driven the wild birds from their haunts[13], and that tradition of their vocal powers alone remains, unless, indeed, they were to be followed to the distant Iona.—The air is not to be found among Dr. Crotch’s specimens of Scottish music."

This article included the notation for the described song sent by the writer.

We have prepared the "Swan Song" as a PDF file with standard notation, as a basic arrangement of the tune for melody, guitar chords, harp (and/or keyboard). This arrangement can be used as a basis for your own arrangements or improvisations.

MP3 multi-part arrangement

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