Music to Welcome Springtime

Happy Spring!

With this weekend’s equinox, spring is officially underway.  This is particularly good news for those of us in Minnesota—we are, as I write this, getting one of those March blizzards we’re famous for.  (Mercifully, Minneapolis proper is only supposed to get a few inches, but about an hour or so south… wowza.)

Anyway, I wanted to celebrate the new season with a classical playlist of spring-themed music. It’s a diverse collection that captures the many moods of spring… enjoy!

* * *

Argento: “Spring,” from A Ring of Time Written as an “occasional work” to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Minnesota Orchestra, A Ring of Time has established a solid reputation of its own.   Following its premiere with Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra in 1972, this work was quickly taken up by the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.  The work honors the passage of time in a variety of ways, with each of the four movements celebrating a season, but giving a metaphoric nod to the life-span of a man as well as the movements of a clock.

.

Bliss: “Spring Offensive–Dawn on the Somme,” from Morning Heroes. This is… well, a very different take on the season.  Bliss’s great choral-orchestral work focuses on the notion of heroism—a celebration not just of bravery, but also self-sacrifice, honor, and perseverance.  The text draws from such wide-ranging authors as Homer, Walt Whitman, and Li Tai Po; the final movement draws on “Spring Offensive” by Wilfred Owen, a poet who served in the trenches during World War I, and Robert Nichols’s “Dawn on the Somme.”  It is a deeply moving—and for Bliss, a deeply personal—lament for those who lost their lives in the line of duty.

.

Britten: Spring Symphony This choral symphony premiered with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1949 when the composer was 35.  It was specifically written, in the composer’s words, to represent “the progress of Winter to Spring and the reawakening of the earth and life which that means.”  Over the course of its four principal parts, Britten set a number of spring-related poems from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but also added “Out on the lawn I lie in bed” by his friend W. H. Auden.

.

Britten: Five Flower Songs In 1951, Britten composed these flower songs to celebrate the wedding of two of his good friends.  Scored for a cappella chorus, the songs incorporate a variety of poems that celebrate flowers and use them as a metaphor for the human experience.  They aren’t specifically written to honor spring… but they are far too much fun to ignore.

.

Copland:  Appalachian Spring.  Copland’s most famous work hardly needs an introduction.  It was originally written as a ballet that celebrated a new marriage—with all its attendant joys, dreams, and concerns.  For many listeners, this is American music.

.

Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring This is a gorgeous piece that filled with hope and a sense of renewal.  As the composer Peter Warlock wrote effusively to Delius: “[This work] is the most exquisite and entirely lovely piece of music I have heard for many a long day—it almost makes me cry, for the sheer beauty of it: I play it often on the piano, and it is continually in my head, a kind of beautiful undercurrent to my thoughts. For me, the deep, quiet sense of glowing happiness, and the mysterious feeling of being at the very heart of Nature, that pervades the piece, is too lovely for words.”

.

Glazunov: The Spring This short, rhapsodic work premiered in 1891.  Glazunov prefaced it with an ode to spring by Fyodor Tyuchev, who was a rising star of the Pan-Slavism movement. A gifted sound-painter, Glazunov creates a musical scene filled with the singing of birds as they greet the dawn on a bright spring morning.

.

Grieg: “To the Spring,” from Lyric Pieces. Lyric Pieces for solo piano, a collection of 66 miniatures published in 10 volumes from 1867 to 1901, contain some of his best-loved music. This fun, impressionistic work captures a world of nature sounds including splashing water and a rising stream.  The melody rises to suggest sunlight in full glory before falling back into serene contentment.

.

Klami: “The Sprout of Spring,” from Kalevala Suite Jean Sibelius was hardly the only Finnish composer to be inspired by Finland’s national epic, The Kalevala.  His younger contemporary Uuno Klami also turned to this ancient text, making use of some of the same poems that Sibelius himself had used.  Klami’s approach, however, is radically different, as he drew inspiration from the Stravinsky, Ravel, and other composers working in Paris.  The Kalevala Suite was designed as a ballet; in its final 1943 version, Klami designed “The Sprout of Spring” as a lyric pastorale to balance the more dramatic “Creation of the Earth” that immediately preceded it and the energetic scherzo that follows.

.

Mahler: “The Drunkard in Spring,” from The Song of the Earth. The year 1907 was a tough one for Mahler. In rapid succession he lost his post as Director of the Vienna Court Opera due to political infighting and anti-Semitism. Shortly thereafter he lost his daughter Maria to scarlet fever, and learned of a congenital heart defect that would shorten his life. He wrote, “I have lost everything I have gained in terms of who I thought I was, and have to learn my first steps again like a newborn.” The next year he came across Hans Bethge’s Die chinesische Flöte, a German translation of ancient Chinese poetry. He was profoundly moved by the poems’ discussion of transience and fate; he quickly adapted seven of the selections to create the orchestral song cycle, The Song of the Earth. The penultimate section, “The Drunkard in Spring” captures the pent-up gaiety of the season.

.

MacMillan: Sowetan Spring Contemporary composer James MacMillan has made a name for himself with music that is intensely spiritual, and intensely political.  These threads combine in Sowetan Spring, which was written to commemorate the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in February 1990.  This is a work of renewal that captures the sense of hope felt around the world as Apartheid finally came to an end.  Musically, it makes us of intriguing antiphonal effects, and incorporates fragments of the South African people’s national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ I Afrika.

.

Nielsen: Springtime in Funen I can sort of understand why this gorgeous choral work isn’t more universally known—most choirs blanch at the thought of singing in Danish.  But still… this should be a standard repertoire work.   I can’t image a piece that more gloriously celebrates of the coming of spring. Nielsen moves through a kaleidoscope of perspectives, capturing the ideas of children, elders, men, and women at a country festival on the island of Funen that all but shouts with joy.

.

Piazolla: “Buenos Aires Spring,” from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. This work is a marvelous fusion of musical styles, bringing together themes from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the tango music of Piazolla’s native Buenos Aires. The result is a vibrant, rhythmic reconceptualization of Vivaldi’s classic. It’s also curious to hear how the seasons are essentially flipped, mirroring the experiences of those living south of the equator.

.

Schumann: Symphony No. 1, “Spring.” Clara Schumann was a major force behind her husband Robert’s First Symphony; as she confided to her diary, “My highest wish is that he should compose for orchestra—that is his field! May I succeed in bringing him to it!” Her conviction won the day, and the result was this buoyant work.  Robert himself later wrote, “I wrote the symphony in that rush of spring which carries a man away even in his old age, and comes over him anew every year. Description and painting were not a part of my intention, but I believe that the time in which it came into existence may have influenced its shape and made it what it is. You will not find it too easy, but neither will you find it too difficult.”

.

Sibelius: Spring Song This tone poem is not one of Sibelius’s strongest works—or, for that matter, one of his most characteristic works—but it exudes a genial, folksy sense of charm.

.

Sibelius: Spring is Flying Spring is Flying is one of Sibelius’s most popular songs, with a text by Swedish poet Johan Runeberg.  It is a marvelous miniature that captures the various emotions of the poem to perfection.  In it, a young woman laments the passing of the seasons and worries that all things, including youth and beauty, must fade.  Her partner assures her, however, that memories will sustain them, and that spring is a season for love.

.

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring No list could be complete without this masterpiece, with its very different take on springtime’s fertility.

.

Vaughan Williams: Five Tudor Portraits Vaughan Williams has several works that fit more obviously here—but I’m throwing this one entirely at my discretion.  For one, I’ve already referenced his cantata Folk Songs for the Four Seasons several times before.  Also, while he arranged many spring-themed folk songs over his career, they tend to be exceptionally short.  The Five Tudor Portraits is a great alternative—it is a substantial work, and the songs’ bawdy fun captures the mood of the season perfectly. Grab a pint of ale and enjoy!

.

Vivaldi: “Spring,” from The Four Seasons. No words are necessary… just enjoy.

.

.

Xochipilli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Music to Welcome Springtime

  1. I had no idea there were so many pieces with a spring connection! Great list. I’m glad you included the Piazzola — I think of that whole piece as very spring-like. Cinda

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s