The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: More cold and snow are on the way today. Has any composer captured arctic austerity better than Debussy? | January 14, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

Looks like more severe cold is on the way later tonight and tomorrow, this time accompanied by one to three inches of snow.

The Ear is sure a lot of readers know of and can suggest music that expresses such a wintry mood.

So far, the best and most haunting interpretation he has heard is “Footprints in the Snow” (Des pas dans la neige) by the French musical Impressionist Claude Debussy (below). It is the sixth of 12 in Debussy’s Preludes, Book 1.

A lot of versions by very famous pianists exist and can be found on YouTube.

But the moodiest ones that really attract the Ear are the slowest ones that imitate the motionlessness of severe cold and the austerity of snow – amounting to a kind of stasis or suspended animation. It can almost seem like Minimalism ahead of its time.

The best reading is done by the great Italian master Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below), who follows the composer’s tempo instructions of “slow and sad” very literally. It reminds him of the title of the first novel by the American writer Ann Beattie: “Chilly Scenes of Winter.” You can feel the sense of absence and frozen mystery.

Take a listen and tell us what you think or if you have other suggestions.

The Ear wants to hear.

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3 Comments »

  1. Few pieces say “arctic north” to me more so than the Sibelius Symphony No.5.

    Comment by Steve Kurr — January 14, 2018 @ 11:28 am

  2. I would strongly prefer the Antarctic music the Ralph Vaughan Williams composed for the film “Scott of the Antarctic” and then adapted into his chilling Seventh Symphony.

    Comment by John W. Barker — January 14, 2018 @ 9:27 am

  3. VIVALDI, “WINTER” OF COURSE !!!!!

    Comment by Terry Baer — January 14, 2018 @ 5:50 am


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