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.


  1. What a great post, Jacob. I haven’t heard many of these pieces and I’m excited to explore them. This kind of writing is exactly what I am aiming for in my blog, wax classical . It certainly helped since I live in Dallas, where we have our fair share of hot summer days.

    Comment by Justin Mathis — July 10, 2012 @ 7:00 am

    • Hi Justin,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      I appreciate your very kind words and am glad I can help.
      Knowing that someone in Dallas in paying attention to me in Madison also encourages me.
      Good luck to you.
      You might also check the playlists for Wisconsin Public Radio at
      These past few morning especially, host Anders Yocom on Morning Classics (9-11 a.m. CDT) has been playing many suggestions for water and rain music he got from my blog and from radio listeners who sent in ideas.
      Hope you will sent word in the future.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 10, 2012 @ 11:28 am

  2. How about Grofe’s “Cloudburst” from GRAND CANON SUITE. I heard that the piece was actually inspired by a Wisconsin thunderstorm. And Debussy’s piano piece “Garden in the Rain” from ESTAMPES.

    Comment by Anders Yocom — July 7, 2012 @ 10:20 am

    • Hi Anders,
      Thank you for replying.
      Both are excellent suggestions.
      The American Southwest, and not just the Grand Canyon, sure could use a prolonged cloudburst right now. I am sure that the firefighters and homeowners would appreciate it.
      But then so would Wisconsin farmers and gardeners.
      And I don;t know why I didn’t think of the Debussy piece — probably for the same reason I didn’t cite “Poissons d’or” (Goldfish) — namely, that he did so many that would qualify.
      Best and stay cool.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 7, 2012 @ 10:55 am

  3. Two weeks ago, I didn’t know this piece; two hours ago I didn’t know this performance.
    But ever since stumbling on this particular Pärt, I’ve been thinking, “Winter.”
    And so, apparently, were some others:

    Comment by michael p scott — July 7, 2012 @ 9:56 am

    • Thank you, Michael, for contributing something contemporary.
      It is very much appreciated.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 7, 2012 @ 11:04 am

  4. How about “Fear No More The Heat of the Sun” a song by Gerald Finzi to words by Shakespeare.

    Comment by Paul Rowe — July 7, 2012 @ 8:26 am

    • Hi Paul,
      Great title — right to the point.
      What a terrific sounding suggestion.
      I know nothing about it and have never heard of it.
      But I do love the music of Finzi, who is so unjustly neglected.
      And you can’t go wrong with a text by Shakespeare.
      I will check it out.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 7, 2012 @ 10:57 am

  5. Finnish composer Rautavaara’s “Cantus Arctica” — the first movement is here:

    Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 1 (“Nordic”) and Symphony No. 7 (“Sea Symphony”)

    The North Sea seems really appealing right now!

    Comment by Susan Fiore — July 7, 2012 @ 7:47 am

    • I love Hanson’s symphonies but I would add number 2 to the list!

      Comment by Kevin Pearson — July 7, 2012 @ 8:17 am

    • Hi Susan,
      Any sea or ocean or even lake seems appealing right now.
      But a contemporary work by a highly praised Finnish composer just adds to the appeal.
      Even the title of the Rautavaara seems quenching.
      And I agree with you about Hanson, although i too would add the Symphony No. 2 “Romantic,” which I heard Interlochen students perform right next to Interlochen Lake.
      It is the music camp’s theme song and it works in that rural Michigan setting — all water and pine trees: A great hot summer setting.
      Thank you for reading and replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 7, 2012 @ 11:09 am

  6. I’d add Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (The Pastoral), with its refreshing walks through the woods and its rainstorm.

    Comment by Phil Haslanger — July 7, 2012 @ 6:57 am

    • Great choice Phil!

      Comment by Kevin Pearson — July 7, 2012 @ 8:16 am

    • Hi Phil,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      Well. you sure nailed it — and with a masterpiece that I should have thought of, but didn’t!
      It is only the most famous rainstorm in music history, after all.
      All the more reason to welcome your suggesting it — especially when it can be so familiar that I overlook it.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 7, 2012 @ 11:00 am

  7. I think Robert Schumann’s Rheinische symphony (No 3.) is a fine one to help bear the summer heat!

    Comment by Kevin Pearson — July 7, 2012 @ 12:22 am

    • Hi Kevin,
      Thanks for reading and replying.
      A dunk in the Rhine River might indeed be refreshing — if the current isn’t too strong or dangerous, and idf the water isn’t too polluted (which I know nothing about one way or the other).
      But an aural dunk into the musical Rhine surely would be refreshing right now.
      Great selection of great music.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 7, 2012 @ 11:02 am

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