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From Tangoes To Ice Floes, A Snow-Day Classical Playlist

The cold never bothered Antonio Vivaldi anyway - at least not for his "Four Seasons."
The cold never bothered Antonio Vivaldi anyway - at least not for his "Four Seasons."


While snow covering the ground can be a source of annoyance or joy, it can also be a musical inspiration. These pieces are all connected to extreme winter weather.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4, Mvt 1

Just because Christmas has passed does not mean that sleigh bells have missed their moment. That’s how Gustav Mahler begins his fourth symphony. For a composer who spent his life besought with existential crises, the piece is remarkably light and fun. The tunes are as enjoyable as a day throwing snowballs or sledding down an icy hill.

Antonio Vivaldi and Astor Piazzolla: The Four Seasons
“To tremble from cold in the icy snow, In the harsh breath of a horrid wind; To run, stamping one's feet every moment, Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold”
Antonio Vivaldi accompanied the publication of his concerti we know as “The Four Seasons” with sonnets, just in case the titles didn’t tell the story clearly enough. The frozen landscape is evident in the music, which has resonated with listeners for centuries. It has also proven to be an inspiration to composers.

Many musicians have taken on the challenge of creating a derivative work. For example, Astor Piazzolla created a set of seasonal tangos that he titled Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). You can compare Piazzolla’s Invierno to Vivaldi’s L’inverno and imagine different climates indeed.

John Williams: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back - "The Battle in the Snow"

Eventually dealing a costly blow to the rebels, the iconic battle on the planet Hoth is one of the most exciting moments - and coldest moments in the original Star Wars films. 


Henry Purcell: King Arthur, Act III

It would be difficult to describe the plot of the third act of Henry Purcell’s spectacle of an opera King Arthur. It involves magic, a “cold genius,” and battling armies. In its time it was accompanied by some of the most advanced stage craft of its time - pyrotechnics and all. The famous shivering of The Cold Song was reused recently in Hans Zimmer’s opening titles to Netflix’s series The Crown.

The Crown theme

Meredith Monk: Winter Variation

It was an 8-story tower that gave Meredith Monk the catalyst to compose Songs of Ascension, based on chants for pilgrimages. Each is meant to have an uplifting feeling - perfect for pulling you up on a cloudy day of winter weather.

R. Murray Schafer: Snowforms

After observing many Canadian winters composer R. Murray Schafer created a choral piece for treble voices that portrayed the snowy landscape. Originally a visual artist before he took up composition, Schaefer specializes in graphic notation. Snowforms is one of his most literal, as flakes and drifts are portrayed both visually and aurally.


Zoe Keating: Icefloe

The cello is layered as many as 16 times in composer/performer Zoe Keating’s 2018 work Snowmelt. In Icefloe she portrays the floating stasis of the titular object, but also includes a dramatic melt at the end.

Terje Isungset: Ice Music

For Norwegian drummer Terje Isungset the ice itself is an instrument. After being commissioned in 1999 by a winter festival in Lillehammer to play a frozen waterfall CNN labeled Isungset the world’s only “ice musician.” 

Michael Abels: Global Warming

It’s a topic of conversation as surprisingly strong weather sweeps across the United States, but climate change isn’t actually the topic at hand in Michael Abel’s piece Global Warming. Rather, in 1990 “warming” of international relations was a source of joy for the composer. 

Whatever the weather, tune in to 90.5 WUOL - Classical Louisville 24/7 for a soundtrack to your day.

Colleen is the morning host for LPM Classical. Email Colleen at colleen@lpm.org.

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