Winter inspired music

November 28, 2021
winter inspired music Bow and Baton

There’s nothing more satisfying on a cold winter’s day to cosy up and listen to some winter inspired music. Here are some of our favourite classical pieces that interpret the cold season. Grab yourself a cheeky Shiraz or Pinot Grigio, put your feet up and listen. Enjoy!

The Snow is Dancing – Debussy (1862 – 1918)

The Snow Is Dancing comes from Debussy’s Children’s Corner suite of pieces which he wrote in 1908 for his three year old daughter, Claude-Emma (Chou-Chou), The work beautifully captures the falling and swirling effect of snowflakes in the wind.

A Ceremony of Carols Op 28. No. 8. In freezing winter night – Benjamin Britten (1913 – 1976).

A Ceremony of Carols was written in 1942 while Britten was at sea, travelling from the United States to England. While the ship stopped at Halifax, Nova Scotia, for repairs, Britten found in a shop The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems, edited by Gerald Bullett. These proved inspirational and he wrote most of his eleven carol settings for A Ceremony of Carols as the boat sailed across the Atlantic to Liverpool. The work is scored for treble voices and harp and the text is Middle English.

In Freezing Winter Night, listen to the way the tremolos on the harp create a sense of shivering cold. which is further enhanced with dissonances in the music. The rhythmic and melodic ostinato give a feeling relentless winter.

Behold, a silly tender babe in freezing winter night,
In homely manger trembling lies; alas, a piteous sight!

The inns are full, no man will yield to this little pilgrim bed.
But forced he is with silly beast, in crib to shroud his head.

This stable is a Prince’s court, this crib his chair of State;
The beast are parcel of his pomp, this wooden dish his plate.

The persons in that poor attire his royal liveries wear,
The Prince himself is come from Heav’n; this pomp is prized there.

With joy approach o Christian wight, do homage to thy King;
And highly praise his humble pomp, wich he from Heav’n doth bring.

Fading Sun (2010) – Isungset

Norwegian composer and percussionist, Terje Isungset, creates music from instruments made from ice; ice trumpets, ice drums, ice xylophones. He even performs concerts with these (mainly in Norway or Russia though!). You can hear the effect in this piece from his album Winter Songs.


Winter, from The Four Season’s by Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)

Many composers have been inspired by the seasons, none more so in such detail, than Antonio Vivaldi who wrote a set of four violin concertos – one for each of the seasons. As a descriptive base for these concertos, Vivaldi took four sonnets, (which it is believed he had written himself), and interpreted them musically in a concerto form with a fast-slow-fast movement structure.  Vivaldi went to great lengths to relate his music to the texts of the poems. The scores, which were published in 1725, are marked with the text of the corresponding sonnet.  Listen out for the icy sound created by the strings in the opening movement. This is a technique called sul ponticello, which means playing near or on the bridge of the instrument – it gives a really cold effect.

Allegro non molto
Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one’s icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.

Sinfonia Antartica – Vaughan Williams

In 1947 Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the music for the film ‘Scott of the Antarctic’. He was so inspired by the moving story and the brutal landscape that he incorporated much of the music from the score into his seventh symphony. But the work is more than just a film score, it portrays humanity’s struggle against the forces of nature and evokes the icy wastes of the Antarctic. With five movements, Sinfonia Antartica makes full use of a large orchestra including an organ, wind machine, as well as a soprano and women’s chorus to represent the Antarctic blizzards.

The Snow – Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934)

Fondly regarded by many a choir member, The Snow, by Edward Elgar, is a beautiful three-part song written for female voices accompanied by two violins and piano.  Although it’s an unusual combination, the accompaniment portrays the falling, swirling and thawing of the snow in an emotional way. It was composed in 1894 to words written by Elgar’s wife, Caroline Alice Elgar:

O snow, which sinks so light,
Brown earth is hid from sight
O soul, be thou as white as snow
O snow which falls so slow,
Dear earth quite warm below;
O heart so keep thy glow
Beneath the snow.

O snow, in thy soft grave
Sad flow’rs the winter brave;
O heart, so soothe and save, as does the snow.
The snow must melt, must go,
Fast, fast as water flow.
Not thus, my soul, O sow
They gifts to fade like snow.

O snow, thou’rt white no more,
Thy sparkling too, is o’er;
O soul, be as before,
Was bright the snow.
Then as the snow all pure,
O heart be, but endure;
Through all the years full sure,
Not as the snow.

Christmas Concerto (Concerto grosso in G minor, Op.6, No.8) – Arcangelo Corelli

Written for the mass in celebration of the nativity, this piece was first performed in 1690 and bears the inscription Made for the night of Christmas. It is made up of 6 short movements which alternate with a slow-fast structure. The final movement is a serene Pastorale which suggests the shepherds gathered at the manger.

(A concerto grosso “big concerto” is where a small group of soloists pass the melody between themselves and the rest of the orchestra or ensemble.)

Winter Night (Sleigh Ride) – Delius (1862 – 1934).

This piece by English composer, Frederick Delius, beautifully portrays a snowy, moonlit sleigh ride, complete with bells.

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