“Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.”
̶ said Roger Miller, American composer and musician.
Whether it is a light shower or a heavy storm, there is definitely something spirit-stirring about the water falling from the sky. If you go to YouTube in search of some music for ‘relaxation, study and concentration’, it is highly likely that the search engine will suggest you some 10-hour tropical rain set among other meditative options. The force of nature has been stupefying people for centuries and the water is among its most magnetic elements.
We love summer rains, do you? Warm and powerful as they may get. Getting inspired by the phenomenon ourselves, we decided to track the influence of rain in the creative work of some classical composers. There must definitely be something in it that brought these people of art to sit down and pen a piece or two. Below we put together a short selection of really ‘wet’ classical compositions that could be a perfect alternative for your YouTube search request. The way rain is pictured in this music is a special sort of pleasure.
Depending on the mood, you can indulge yourself with a playful embodiment of water in music, or let in a bit of melancholy and summertime sadness. Recommended to listen to during the rainfall or instead of it. Enjoy!
Frederik Chopin, Raindrop Prelude
This is the 15th piece out of the 24 Chopin’s preludes under Op.28. A clear association with the rain is established from the start – composer adds the repeated A flat into the piece’s pattern that can’t but produce the effect of heavy raindrops. Chopin, however, did not like the fact that his work was called an imitation of the rain. According to George Sand, his lifelong partner, he even got angry at such a comparison. Rather, he called it a translation of nature’s energy through his artistic genius. The woman recalls a dream that he shared with her: a vision where he was in a lake and the raindrops fell heavily on his chest inspired him for creating this work. The Raindrop Prelude is the longest in the set. It is also believed to be deeply introspective and quite intimate for Chopin, something way more than just a rainfall on the roof.
Video: Raindrop Prelude
Benjamin Britten, Noye’s Fludde
In this opera for children, Benjamin Britten tells the Biblical story of Noye’s Ark. The rain here is not created by the musical means but is produced with the help of simple domestic utensils. It was Gustav Holst’ daughter Imogen who was Britten’s assistant at the time. She was the one who showed him the experiment she made during teaching percussion to women at wartime. The sound of the raindrops was reconstructed with the help of the mugs hanging on a string and a big wooden spoon hitting them. The rain that we hear in the opera precedes a heavy storm, both natural and musical.
Video: Noye’s Fludde
Claude Debussy, Jardins Sous la Pluie
The third movement of Debussy’s solo piano piece “Estamps” is translated as “gardens in the rain” and couldn’t be titled better. The rain can be heard in all its forms here, from the soft touch of the first drops to the massive storm over Normandy. The story takes place in a garden of a small community of Orbec. Debussy masterfully interweaves two popular French nursery songs into this episode, and in general, the influence of childhood dreams can be clearly traced through many of his works. The rain here is illustrated with sparkling vividness and anyone playing the work on the piano can perfectly feel the rapid spring shower ‘fall down’ on the keyboard. The composition closely reminds a toccata in technique and requires good hand coordination skills to play it well.
Video: Jardins Sous la Pluie
Judith Weir, The Welcome Arrival of Rain
Composing this work, Judith Weir looked much further into the essence if the rain rather than just imitating its meditative sound. The idea was to highlight the life-giving power of this water and the growth it provides in so many ways. The Welcome Arrival of Rain is thus a renewal metaphor set to music. The piece was inspired by an extract from a Hindu text about the coming of monsoon rains to India and bringing new life to all living things. Just listen to the delicately captured sense of the fluid and trembling downpour.
Edvard Grieg, Spring Rain
One of the six songs from Op.49 (Seks Digte) by Grieg is fully dedicated to rain. The lyrics of the entire set are in the Danish language and were written by the poet Holger Drachmann. The Spring Rain song is an example of a glorious marriage of music, lyrics and voice. The flowing vocal line portrays the way of the water drops down to the earth through the cascade of trees. It is not among composer’s most performed works but it nevertheless is unique in its charm.
Video: Spring Rain
Other notable ‘rainy’ pieces include:
- Grieg’s Spring Rain from Op.49 (the raindrops portrayed through the falling chords)
- Wagner’s Die Walküre (the moment Siegmund emerges from the storm incredibly conveyed through the strings only)
- Britten’s Peter Grimes (with the timpani signaling about the ominous storm)
- Strauss’ Alpine Symphony (with the full-orchestra thunder blast)
- Shubert’s Rain of Tears (a poignant love song about a farewell before the rain)
- Frede Grofe’s Cloudburst (about the growing storm over the Grand Canyon)
- Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (the fishermen sheltering from September tempest in Act II)
- Ravel’s Jeaux d’Eau (the sounds of cascading waters, not the rain but the after-rain)
Set your playlist ready for a rainy day and dive in. In case after this article you’ve had a sudden desire to perform any of the above compositions yourself, note that most of them can be learnt here at MusicaNeo. Just print the needed score and go practice your rainy classic!