Are you enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful weather that comes with springtime? Do you love classical music? If you answered yes to either of those questions, check out this list of classical music inspired by spring! [Part 1 can be found here.]
Claude Debussy’s Rondes de Printemps (“Round Dances of Spring”)
From 1905 to 1912, Debussy (1862-1918) wrote Images pour orchestre (“Images for orchestra”), a symphonic work in three parts. Debussy originally conceived the piece as a two-piano work, but after a year of composing, he decided to orchestrate the entire thing. Rondes de Printemps (“Round Dances of Spring”) is the final and most adventurous of the three parts.
Debussy prefaced Rondes de Printemps with a line from 15th-century poet Poliziano: “Long live May! Welcome May with its rustic banner.” By writing these lines in the score, the composer alluded to France’s ancient spring ritual where the youth would wear laurel wreaths at the beginning of spring. This is also manifest in the music itself:
Rondes de Printemps incorporates the French folk song “Nous n’irons plus au bois” (We’ll go to the woods any more). However, instead of quoting the song note for note, Debussy cut the melody up into pieces and developed it throughout the work. Overall, the piece starts softly and grows in excitement to celebrate the arrival of spring.
“The Rose” (2017) by Ola Gjeilo (1978-present)
“The Rose” might not seem like it was inspired by spring; in fact, Gjeilo includes it on his winter album full of Christmas pieces! The harmonies are certainly frosty and dramatic, but I want to argue that this piece can be considered a spring song as well as a winter one. Let’s look at the lyrics, a poem by Christina Rossetti:
The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
Is lady of the land.
There’s sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.
When with moss and honey
She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.
I’m not going to get into any poetic analysis, but pure lilies, beautiful roses, and sweet apple trees are all symbols of spring (just like love is if you want to get deep into the lyrics).
The very last chord of “The Rose” is known as a picardy third, which happens when a musical composition in a minor key ends with a major chord. This adds a fresh tone to the music (like winter changing to spring). The accompaniment is a constantly moving 8th note line that reminds me of the wind bringing change (out with the old, in with the new and all that).
All of these lyrical and harmonic ideas together remind me of the new season.
“On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” by Frederick Delius (1862-1834)
Delius composed “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” in 1912 as part of a larger work, Two Pieces for Small Orchestra.
“On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring” opens softly with slow chords passing from the strings to the brass, emphasizing the cuckoo’s call at 0:15 in the oboe. This first theme is developed throughout the orchestra (the strings have it at 0:34). The second theme – and the center of the piece – is the Norwegian folk song “In Ola Valley“, especially the version arranged by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (3:12). The two themes weave together, growing and shifting as the piece swells with the color and light of spring.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Song without words, Op. 62 No. 6, “Spring Song”
Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “Songs Without Words” is a set of short lyrical piano pieces, written between 1829 and 1845. The wonderfully lighthearted “Spring Song” captures the innocence and cheerfulness that comes with the new season; the melody soars over light chords in the accompaniment, painting pictures of chirping birds, sunbeams, and blooming flowers.
Våren (“Last Spring”) by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
“Last Spring” is the second movement of Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34 for string orchestra, composed in 1880. Both movements in Op. 34 are instrumental arrangements of Grieg’s Op. 33, two songs he wrote for voice and piano around the same time (he even arranged the songs for solo piano later that year). Here is an English translation of the lyrics for “Last Spring”, a poem written by Aasmund Vinje (1818-1870):
Once again I could see,
how winter had to flee into spring, once again I saw the wild cherry bloom in spring.
Once again I saw the little mountain stream flowing,
freed from ice, heard the thundering stream of melt water pour into the valley.
Once again I saw the flowers in the green of the flowering meadow,
heard the thrush happily greet the summer with joyous song.
One day, I will myself be part of all the
blossoms and foam,
I will refresh myself in the cool fresh breeze with happy dreams.
The flowery garlands, spring’s present to me,
woke in me the spirit of the fathers, their sighs and their dancing,
It seemed to me I found one of spring’s secrets in the fir tree; and it was as if my flute began to weep softly.