As the Love Day is almost here and the couples secretly do last-minute shopping for some lovely gifts for each other, we reflected on what the evening of February, 14 might look like. Champagne popped open, sweets unwrapped, the lights are dimed, the cuddle mode is on. The soundtrack to this long-awaited date night should be something special indeed.
Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You” is perfectly alright, it just doesn’t need to be that every time. Those who are looking for an alternative to the sentimental pop standards by Adele, Ed Sheeran, Lionel Richie, John Mayer and alike (we have a lot of those too, though), might be amazed by what classical music can offer for this romantic occasion.
The range of music works with love-themed overtones is actually impressive. From tear-jerking melodies of the first love flush and ecstatically intense opera arias about the passion’s depth, to the catastrophically unrequited love stories and dramatically savory song endings. Love and romance, imaginary and tangible, in all their various forms, shapes and fullest spectrum – inspired some really great music to date.
So what are some of the most romantic classical music pieces ever written? (Beware, you might need to have some tissue ready at hand). Just a few examples for your attention and perhaps a soppy listen.
1. Leoš Janáček: “Intimate Letters”
Flowers for February 14? Too easy. What about composing a quartet for your sweetheart? Janáček’s second major string work is dedicated to a woman he could never be together with. Kamila Stösslová was married and 38 younger, but the two exchanged over 700 letters within their spiritual friendship. The swirling feelings and the impossibility of their embodiment are very intense in this great work that is often referred to as composer’s "manifesto on love". By the way, Kamila also inspired many of his later works.
Video: String Quartet No. 2 by Janáček
2. Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
It is a different form of expressing love that you’ll hear in this work. “Concierto de Aranjuez” was not dedicated to a woman but to a royal palace, focusing on the beauty of its fountains, blossoming flowers and singing birds. It was however the happy time of composer’s honeymoon, so he made this dialog of classical guitar and orchestra so lively and perfect for daydreaming about the joys of being in love. Blind from the age of 3, Rodrigo was playing piano, not guitar, but it is the guitar whose role in Spanish music he managed to elevate so brightly.
Video: Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo
3. Edward Elgar: Salut d’Amour
It’s already in the title, isn’t it. 'Love's Greeting' was also a gift, an engagement gift, to be more precise. Elgar composed it for his wife-to-be Caroline Alice and subtitled it as ‘Liebesgruss’ as Caroline was pretty fluent in German. The dedication on the score said ‘à Carice’ in French (Caroline + Alice) and the woman received it right after returning from a holiday. We don’t know what that evening was like for the two but we do know that their first daughter got the name Carice soon after.
Video: Salut d’Amour by Elgar
4. Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2
This is what decisively confirms Rachmaninoff’s fame as a brilliant concerto composer. The second movement that was premiered with composer as soloist became one of the most romantic compositions and was taken as a basis for manifold popular love songs. If this doesn’t express what the wonder of love between two people is, than what does?
Video: Piano Concerto No.2 by Rachmaninoff, Mov.2
5. Franz Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3
“Love as long as you can!” begins the poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath that served the basis for Liszt’s quintessential piano piece translated as ‘Love’s Dream’. This highly romantic miniature is exceptionally pleasant to listen to but quite complicated to play, requiring proficient technical skill and zealous finger work-out. In case you find it too much for yourself to practice at the moment, there’s always Anton Rubinstein to help you out with his fabulous rendition.
Video: Liebestraum performed by Rubinstein
6. Richard Wagner: "Siegfried Idyll”
We’ve already learnt that composers love writing pieces as a present for someone. Wagner, too, decided to go beyond a box of chocolates and composed “Siegfried Idyll” for his wife Cosima’s birthday. The premiere of the work took place in a private family circle at their villa in Switzerland. It was on a Christmas morning when Cosima woke up to a beautiful trumpet solo that was part of the poem’s opening melody.
Video: Siegfried Idyll by Wagner
7. Georges Bizet: Je Crois Entendre Encore
Part of “The Pearl Fishers” opera, this aria is a breathtaking love confession of Nadir to Leila, all in a twisted story where men’s friendship is threatened by the shared feeling of love for the same woman. It’s considered to be one of the most seductive arias in French opera, that, however, was very popular among Italian tenors. Incredibly emotional and beautiful in its difficulty.
Video: Je Crois Entendre Encore by Nicolai Gedda
Hardly anything is able to express love better than music. The easiest you can do is set your playlist ready in advance and just launch it in the background when the day comes. Nevertheless, we believe that playing music for someone or have it played for you could become a very sincere experience. It is, of course, up to you what you Valentine’s Day will sound like. Will you play a Chopin waltz, a song or romance by Brahms, Faure, Schumann, try to perform a little aria by Puccini, Verdi, or Mozart? Maybe you will stick to the well-known pop pieces. Maybe your night will be spent in meaningful silence, who knows. All that matters is that you show your special someone how much you care.