The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: During the Great Heat Wave of 2012, what is good music to cool you off? What music do you like to Beat the Heat?

July 7, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been quite the unbearable week in quite the unbearable and even deadly month.

The hot weather has been relentless, with some of the nation being decimated by wild fires and much of the nation suffering under a Great Heat Wave that has broken thousands of record highs and set new ones.

So, it there any music we can use to Beat the Heat?

Well, there are always the old standards: one famous one is Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” set of four string concertos with its “Autumn” and especially “Winter” movements. Handel‘s “Water Music” is another Baroque standard, and Telemann’s “Water Music” is also effective if less well known.

Then there is more grandiose music that announces its intention with its title. Richard Strauss wrote the “Alpine” Symphony while Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the Symphony Antarctica.

Emotionally, one of the chilliest works ever composed is Schubert’s song cycle, “Winterreise” (Winter Journey). Chopin’s dramatic and blustery “Winter Winter” Etude, Op. 25, No. 11, is another such work. 

For The Ear, two of the most cooling works are piano pieces, perhaps because the percussive timbre or nature of the piano sound has a certain coolness to it.

One is by Maurice Ravel, his “Jeux d’eaux” (Fountains), which feels refreshing,  like a dip in a cool pool or a run under a sprinkler (as can Liszt’s similar work “Fountains at the Villa d’Este).

Take a listen at how those cascading notes, played by Martha Argerich, wash over you and cool you off:

But the chilliest scene of winter, as the American writer Ann Beattie might put it, comes from that revolutionary modernist Claude Debussy (below), the same cool and watery composer who also wrote “Snowflakes Are Dancing”; the oceanic “Sunken Cathedral”; and the bracing wavy symphonic tone poem “La Mer” (The Sea).

The coldest music Debussy wrote is “Tracks in the Snow” from his first book of Preludes. It in its minimalism, especially as played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, it portrays a certain kind of haunting and immobilizing austerity that seem downright frigid:

I’m sure there are many other works of classical music that serve the purpose of making listeners feel cool or even cold.

Let The Ear hear some of your favorites and your suggestions, with links to a YouTube video if possible.

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