The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the winter solstice. What music best captures or celebrates winter? | December 21, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Winter Solstice.

Winter arrives at 10:28 a.m. Central Standard Time.

That means we are turning the corner. Starting today, nights will get shorter and days will get longer.

But there is still plenty of the year’s most blustery and bone-chilling weather ahead of us.

Lots of classical music celebrates winter.

Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is a popular choice.

So is the “Winter Dreams” symphony by Tchaikovsky.

Here are links to two compilations of winter music, lasting for a total of more than two hours, on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNMIgZAx2gQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2jAweLVLRk

But no music is more wintry than the celebrated song cycle “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey” by Franz Schubert (below).

Every year, The Ear uses the solstice and the coming of winter to listen once again to this deeply moving and surprisingly modern song cycle.

Many excellent recordings exist. Famed German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below left, with pianist Gerald Moore) made multiple recordings over many years.

In recent years Matthias Goerner, Thomas Quasthoff, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufmann and many others have already made acclaimed recordings, always with distinguished pianists including Gerald Moore, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Daniel Barenboim and Paul Lewis.

Yet I always find the most satisfying version to be the one made by English tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andnes.

Bostridge’s tenor voice lends a lightness that has a certain clarity and almost speech-like quality to it.

And Bostridge, who wrote the excellent book “Schubert Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession” – a song-by-song analysis of the cycle — knows the texts and contexts of the songs inside and out. His are well-informed and thoroughly thought-out interpretations.

The whole cycle takes about 70 minutes to listen to.

This year The Ear might do one of the 24 songs in the cycle each day and then the entire cycle in one sitting at the end.

The different approach might yield some new insights and new pleasure.

Anyway, choose your own artists and your own way of listening.

But it is a great and timely choice.

Here is “Good Night,” the first song of “Winterreise”:

And here is “The Organ Grinder,” the last song and a favorite of writer Samuel Beckett who found a shared sensibility in the lean austerity of the music of the music and the text:

What winter music would you listen to or recommend to mark the solstice and the coming of winter?

The Ear wants to hear.

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6 Comments »

  1. American composer Vincent Persichetti actually wrote a late piano piece entitled “Winter Solstice” — I’ll nominate that one for this thread.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — December 22, 2017 @ 7:26 am

  2. DOLGAYA, ZIMYAYA NOCH PROSHLA NIZAMYETHA…PUSHKIN

    Comment by Terry Baer — December 21, 2017 @ 3:51 pm

  3. Love your encouragement to spend time with Schubert.

    Comment by Barbara Furstenberg — December 21, 2017 @ 1:52 pm

  4. The aria ‘Must the Winter Come So Soon?’ from Samuel Barber’s ‘Vanessa’ contains the line ‘It is a long winter here.’ It always makes me think of Wisconsin.

    Comment by Larry Wells — December 21, 2017 @ 8:17 am

  5. SIbelius!!! I’d pick the 1st, 2nd or 7th symphonies for having this extra-chill!

    Comment by Konsgaard — December 21, 2017 @ 5:37 am

  6. VIVALDI OF COURSE, DUH !!!!!

    Comment by Terry Baer — December 21, 2017 @ 5:28 am


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