The Well-Tempered Ear

What is the best classical music to greet summer with?

June 21, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Tuesday, June 21, 2011 is the first day of summer, which arrives in the Northern Hemisphere at 12:16 p.m. Central Daylight Time.

Here in the Upper Midwest, it has been a long time coming, especially after the long, wet winter and the cold, wet and violent spring that brought floods and tornados.

As I often do, I want to ask readers what is the best music they can recommend to greet the new season – even if it has largely been a hot and cold affair, a rainy and cloudy affair, where I live.

There are obvious choices, like Vivaldi’s “Summer” concerto from “The Four Seasons” and Beethoven “Spring” violin sonata and Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.” There is the “Summer” section from Haydn’s oratorio “The Seasons.” And there is also the aria “Summertime” from George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and Ravel’s “A Boat on the Ocean” from “Mirrors.”

There are several of Debussy’s Preludes for piano that conjure up summer and warm weather for me. And there are many songs by Schubert, Schumann (who also wrote a “Spring” Symphony), Brahms and Faure that evoke summer with all its blossoming greenery.

But after mulling it overall and looking at a lot of choices, this year I think it comes down to choice of two great works for voice with orchestra.

One is a 19th-century proto-Romantic works by the French composer Hector Berlioz, “Les Nuits d’ete” or “Summer Nights.”

I wanted to offer a sample sung by the late great mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in a posthumously released but beautiful live recording of the Berlioz songs  — paired with several Handel arias — with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan. But it isn’t available on YouTube.

So here is Dame Janet Baker with a lovely excerpt from the Berlioz:

The other choice is a 20th century work by the lyrical American composer Samuel Barber, “Knoxville, Summer of 1915” based on words by James Agee, who wrote “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.”

I wanted to link to an excerpt sung by the terrific American soprano Dawn Upshaw, who scored quite a commercial success with her recording of the work. But again, that performance is not up on YouTube.

When will some of the record companies learn the value of “social media” as an advertising vehicle that gives potential buyers a sample of what they want to hear and might even buy?

So here is Part 1 of an equally beautiful, if now historic,  performance by the American soprano Leontyne Price:

What classical music do you most like and recommend to greet summer with?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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