The winged muse: Swans

An adult mute swan (Cygnus olor) in a pond near Vrhnika, Slovenia (©Wikimedia)

Swans have inspired some of the world’s most beautiful music, poetry and legends. Many people from saints to kings have been identified with swans, like the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova (1899-1931), famous for her “Dying Swan”. Just as there are many romantic rumours about her early death, so too there are many legends surrounding the death of real swans in nature. Is it true that they sing their first and final “swan’s song” at death and mourn a dead mate?

Nowadays it is either forbidden or regarded as unacceptable to eat swan, but they are increasingly being hunted. The swan reaches its apotheosis in art in Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin”. Wagner’s patron, mad king Ludwig II of Bavaria, was obsessed with swans. And KLM airlines’ decision to adopt the swan as its logo in the early 1990’s led to one of the most successful ad campaigns ever.

Producer: Marijke van der Meer

Broadcast: September 27, 2004