Winter Classical MusicPrint
Ten pieces to warm your ears
By Sudip Bose
February 1, 2016
Purcell depicts all of the seasons in Act IV of this masterpiece of the English Baroque theater, but the bare, forsaken, wintry world of this song and chorus is particularly memorable.
These four violin concertos may be the most famous pieces in classical music, but Vivaldi’s rendering of a pervasive chill, of snow and wind and chattering teeth, never fails to astound.
The libretto of this great oratorio, the concluding section of which depicts winter, is based on James Thomson’s long poem The Seasons.
Full of melancholy, Schubert’s cycle of 24 heartbreakingly beautiful songs portrays a lovesick young poet and his bleak winter’s journey.
Tchaikovsky labored long and hard over this early work, nicknamed “Winter Dreams.” The first movement portrays the reveries of a winter journey, the second, a desolate land of mists.
Shostakovich’s cinematic symphony depicting the Russian Revolution of 1905 is filled with cold, bleak imagery—the season as backdrop to protest and communal anger.
Given that Debussy completed his great homage to the sea during an intolerably hot summer on the south coast of England, La Mer might be an odd choice for this list, but knowing that the composer was partly inspired by Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, with its massive frosty breaker and a snowcapped Mt. Fuji, you might begin to hear the work in a different way.
Any number of Sibelius’s works could qualify (think of the shimmering, icy opening of the Violin Concerto or the wintry forest rendered in the late tone poem Tapiola), but the wonderful Fourth Symphony, austere and daring, is especially suited for a cold and dark evening.
Adams, who often depicts the expansive landscapes of Alaska in his music, has said of this primal, hallucinogenic work: “I call it a sonic geography of the Arctic.”
Icelandic composer Thorvaldsdottir has created a work that is haunting, desolate, stark, and luminous, its sonorities addicting and rhythms beguiling.
Sudip Bose is the managing editor of the Scholar.