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Winter in Classical Music

28 Jan 2015

Everyone has a favourite season of the year but there is obviously something to like about all the four. Charming and beautiful each in their own way – summer, autumn, winter and spring – are all loved and awaited in different spots of the planet. The Northern hemisphere is in the middle of the coldest time of the year now so let us warm up by looking at it in a different, music light. Depending on the occupation we all see the world through the prism of our interests. Composers also used to create a lot of ‘seasonal’ works, being inspired by the time of the year and the associations it brought. We have selected a few works dedicated to/inspired by winter in order to draw a portrait of this season as seen by the great composers.

As a rule, the first classical composition associated with the winter is Antonio Vivaldi’s “Winter” from “The Four Seasons”. But there’s definitely much more out there, so let’s remember the works that provide a nice music description of the frosty lady.

Winter Daydreams. Peter Tchaikovsky

It is known that this symphony cost Tchaikovsky a lot of effort, zeal and even suffering, being composed day and night and rejected a few times. According to composer himself, this creation is more substantial than his other music works. The symphony is a dedication to Nikolai Rubinstein who performed the full work in 1868 with great success. The first two movements – “Dreams of a Winter Journey” and “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists” picture an especially vivid picture of a classical Russian winter.

Movement I. “Dreams of a Winter Journey”, Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev:

Winterreise. Franz Schubert

Schubert’s winter travel depicts a very different image compared to Tchaikovsky’s. This song cycle of 24 pieces based on poems by Müller is a way more somber and haunting music set. At the time of composition Schubert was sick with syphilis and his mental health was shattered too. “Winterreise” became an allegoric journey of composer’s heart. This is the poetry of love, loneliness and struggle; winter is rather pictured as a severe and cruel environment.

“Winterrise”, complete set performed by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Alfred Brendel:

The Snow Maiden. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Another Russian composer who is very familiar with winter like no other. The four-act opera “The Snow Maiden” is a beautiful magic story where the forces of nature have a very distinguished musical portrait. The nature is mythically animated through the characters (e.g. ‘mother Spring Beauty’, ‘grandfather Frost’) and all that with folk motifs added make the opera very sparkling and lively.

The Snow is Dancing. Claude Debussy

“The Snow is Dancing” is one of the six pieces from the suite by Claude Debussy called “Children’s Corner”. The entire music work is meant to evoke the sweet childhood memories and the winter here is also pictured in a very soft and playful manner.

Der Schneemann. Erich Wolfgang Korngold

The ballet “Der Schneemann” (“The Snowman”) was composed by the little prodigy Korngold at the early age of only 11 years. The 1910 premier that took place at the Vienna Court Opera was a real sensation and Emperor Franz Josef himself approved the work by the young composer-genius.

Der Winter. Joachim Raff

Symphony No. 11 (“The Winter”) is the last major composition by Raff. The music was unfinished when he died so Raff’s friend Max Erdmannsdörfer completed the work and published its score after composer’s death. Music critics sometimes compare this symphony with Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Daydreams” we mentioned above.

Winter Wind. Frederic Chopin

“Winter Wind” is the name of the etude No. 11 composed by Chopin in 1836. It’s actually a technical study for solo piano aimed at developing both hands’ technique and dexterity in playing the piano.

Etude, Op.25 - No. 11 in A minor "Winter Wind" performed by Evgeny Kissin:

Snow Storm. Georgy Sviridov

In 1964, a story by one of the greatest Russian authors Alexander Pushkin – “The Blizzard” – was made into a same-named film. The soundtrack to this film was composed by a Soviet composer Georgy Sviridov who a bit later decided to turn it into a suite calling it ‘musical illustrations to Aleksandr Pushkin's story’.

The list of ‘winter compositions’ is not a short one. Besides classical authors there are a lot of contemporary composers who also dedicated a part of their creative work to seasons and the emotions triggered by them. At MusicaNeo you can find music scores to both classical masterpieces and modern music artworks.

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