Today, the Church commemorates the great Saint Francis of Assisi, who is widely known as a lover of all mankind and animals. The legend of his famous sermon to the birds says (Source Here):
Father Francis and his companions were making a trip through the Spoleto Valley near the town of Bevagna. Suddenly, Francis spotted a great number of birds of all varieties. There were doves, crows and all sorts of birds. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him. He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they moved not. Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”
At this the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.
Then he gave them his blessing, making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way.
Later, Francis wondered aloud to his companions why he had never preached to birds before. And from that day on, Francis made it his habit to solicitously invoke all birds, all animals and reptiles to praise and love their Creator. And many times during Francis’ life there were remarkable events of Francis speaking to the animals. There was even a time when St. Francis quieted a flock of noisy birds that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder of all present, the birds remained quiet until Francis’ sermon was complete.
I just discovered that Franz Liszt composed a piece for piano basing on this legend, which is known under the name “Deux Légendes” (the second legend he used is a legend of Francis de Paule). The background of this composition is also highly interesting:
Franz Liszt wrote his ‘Deux Légendes’ in between 1863 and 1865, and they were first published in 1866. At the time of writing, Liszt was greatly fascinated by all things religious, and, partly because of the sudden death of his daughter Blandine in september 1862, was going through a personal crisis. He went to Rome to live like a monk and think about his future. He was visited by Pope Pius IX, and eventually, in 1865, he became an abbé.
It is not surprising that during these times his attention should turn to two of the great saints of the Roman Catholic church, St. François d’Assise who preached to the birds, and St. François de Paule who walked on water as Jesus himself had done. These two colourful stories greatly appealed to Liszt, and with his Deux Légendes he created two masterly examples of pure programme music. In the filigree trills and tremolos of the first Légende one clearly hears the birds, and the solemn chorale in the middle section reminds us of the earnest and implacable preachings of the saint. The second Légende is the more famous of the two, in which the saint, depicted by a noble chorale-like theme, rides upon mighty rolling waves of left-hand passagework, and finally emerges from the central storm in blazing triumph (From Piano Society).
Here you can listen to this very interesting and very modern sounding composition: