The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which piece of classical music best expresses the coming of spring?

March 20, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the vernal equinox – the first day of spring. It arrives in Wisconsin at  6:21 p.m.

And boy, is it ever welcome this year.

It’s no secret that a lot of composers have written music as a response to the coming of spring. And you can understand it, especially after a winter with as much cold and snow and ice and gray days as this past winter has brought.

Of course, some spring-inspired music is very well known.

There is the spring section of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” and Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony; Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” in his “Songs Without Words” for the piano; Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and, for a more severe and pagan vision of springtime, Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

Of the best known spring-inspired works, probably my favorite is Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which I recently heard performed incomparably by Hilary Hahn and Valentina Lisitsa.

But there is so much more spring-inspired music, much of it relatively unknown.

Schubert wrote at least two songs about spring: “Fruhlingsglaube” and, from “Winterreise,” “Fruhlingstraum” (Dream of Spring). Schumann also wrote a “Spring Song” in his “Album for the Young” and the song “In wundermonat Mai” (In the wonderful month of May) in the cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Loves).

Haydn has a spring section, of course, in his oratorio, ‘The Seasons.” Respighi has a portrait of spring in his “Three Botticelli Pictures.” Mozart’s string quartet, K. 387, the first of his six “Haydn” quartets (to whom they were dedicated) is often called “Spring.” J.S. Bach wrote “Awake, Thou Wintry Earth” in Cantata No. 202. His contemporary Handel wrote “Spring Is Coming” in his opera “Ottone.”

The human voice, understandably, is often the preferred way to express the joy of spring.

Even Chopin wrote a song “Spring” that is not well; known. (Well, what of his non-piano music is well known?) Rachmaninov, also a piano virtuoso, wrote two songs: “Spring Waters” and “Floods of Spring” (which will be especially fitting for some parts of the country, according to the weather predictions).

In bigger and more epic works, Wagner has Siegmund sing a “Spring” Song” in “Die Walkure.” Verdi wrote ‘Spring” in his “Four Seasons Ballet” in “The Sicilian Vespers.”

Of course Johann Strauss wrote the famous “Voices of Spring.” And Tchaikovsky wrote a piano work, “Spring” as part of the cycle “The Seasons” and a song “It Happened in the Early Spring.”

Three of the less well-known works are written by Nordic composers who surely felt a deep personal appreciation of the easing of winter’s grip and the coming of spring thaws and budding flowers. Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg wrote two of his many “Lyric Pieces” for solo piano: “Spring” and “To Spring”; and Norwegian composer Christian Sinding wrote “The Rustles of Spring” for piano.

So here is my question today:

Do you have a favorite piece of music that for you embodies spring?

If so, what is it and do you have a favorite performance to recommend?

And do you know of any other rarely heard spring-inspired classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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