The first day of spring is right around the corner, although we’ve been experiencing sunny days and warmer temperatures for a couple of weeks now. Of course, Colorado weather can always take a turn (we even have snow in the forecast), but talk of all things “spring” is here to stay for a while. That got me thinking about classical music inspired by the season. From “La primavera” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring, there’s a long list of compositions about and appropriate for this time of year. Here are just a few for your playlist:
“Spring” from The Four Seasons (Vivaldi): The Four Seasons, as the name suggests, is actually four violin concerti. Vivaldi published them along with poems that describe what imagery the music was intended to evoke. For example, the first movement asks the audience to picture that “Spring has come and joyfully the birds greet it with happy song, and the brooks, while the streams flow along with gentle murmur as the zephyrs blow.” Interestingly, the second movement features a barking dog represented by the viola section. Hear it now on YouTube
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (Delius): This is a great example of a tone poem – an orchestral work intended to inspire listeners to imagine scenes or experience moods often from the content of a poem, story, novel, or painting. English composer Delius wrote this as part of Two Pieces for Small Orchestra. The other piece is titled Summer Night on the River, but often these pieces are played separately. Note the cuckoo calls throughout the first theme and again at the end. Listen now here.
“Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt (Grieg): The melody of Morning Mood is by far more well-known than its title or the work from which it came. In fact, most people think of images of Scandinavia where Grieg is from instead of the intended setting which is a Moroccan desert. The piece was written as incidental music to a Henrik Ibsen play and depicts the rising sun at dawn. Listen to it here.
Appalachian Spring (Copland): Originally written as a score for a Martha Graham ballet, today it is celebrated for its tender opening notes and its distinct Americanism thanks to the incorporation of the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts”. Copland wrote the initial piece for 13 instruments but later rescored the work for full orchestra. The word “spring” in this case refers to a water source. The Hart Crane poem from which the title came literally addresses a water spring. However, the poem is figuratively about a journey to meet springtime and the ballet storyline tells of a spring celebration of American pioneers in the 19th century. Listen now on YouTube.
Vårsång (Spring Song) (Sibelius): Another tone poem, Sibelius’ Spring Song was originally composed as an orchestral improvisation for a concert in 1894. It was described as a piece full of “fresh, characterful melodies”. A year later, he reworked the piece, shortening and restructuring it and, at that time, he appended the subtitle “The Sadness of Spring”. The piece, however, can be described as more grand than sad, with an optimism not usually seen in his works. Hear it here.
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