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Winter in music: the best songs inspired by the coldest season
From Vivaldi's Four Seasons to Tchaikovsky's enchanting symphony, we've collected the best music inspired by the coldest season of the year.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) Winter from "The Four Seasons"

Our list can only start with Vivaldi and one of the best known and most performed classical pieces in the world, the very famous "Four Seasons" - it is with this title that the first four solo violin concertos of the opera "Il test of harmony and invention ". Each one depicts a different season and the closing piece is precisely the "Winter", full of sound effects that evoke icy landscapes, icy winds, and with a smile, tumbles "and chattering of teeth, then, in contrast, the warm warmth of fire.

Unusual for the time, Vivaldi published the concerts accompanied by four sonnets (probably written by himself) each dedicated to a season and to the elements evoked by the music. Concerts therefore represent one of the earliest examples of so-called program music - that is, music that hinges on descriptive or narrative elements.

In fact, winter is effectively described in three moments: the breath of the icy wind (cheerful not very), the slow fall of the rain on the frozen ground (wide) in the second movement, one of the most famous of the Four seasons, and the serene acceptance of harsh winter weather (cheerful).

Here is the Sonnet that accompanied the publication of the "L'Inverno" Concert

Frozen trembling among algent snows
At the severe blow of a horrible wind
Run, stamping your feet every moment;
and for excessive gel to beat the teeth;

pass to the fire the gods quiet and happy
while the rain outside wets a hundred
walk on the ice, at a slow pace
for fear of falling, you intend to:
turn strong, break down, fall to the ground
again rise above the ice and run strong
until the ice breaks and unfastens;

to hear doors coming out of the via ferrata
Sirocco, Bora and all winds in war
This is the winter, but so, what joy it brings.

Vivaldi Four Seasons: Winter, complete; Cynthia Freivogel, Voices of Music RV 297 - The Winter

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Winter (Winter) from “The Seasons” (Die Jahreszeiten)
Another great composer, considered one of the greatest exponents of Viennese Classicism, also offers a suggestive musical evocation of winter: Franz Joseph Haydn. His composition "The Seasons" is a profane oratory divided into four parts, the last of which is dedicated to Winter. The oratorio, the last of the four written by Haydn, is composed on a libretto by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, derived in turn from the poem The Seasons by James Thomson. The work was premiered in Vienna on April 24, 1801 in private form at the Palais Schwarzenberg, and the following May 19 in the Redoutensaal open to the public, enjoying excellent successes. The composition, written for orchestra, choir and three solo voices (soprano, tenor and bass) is divided into 44 numbers including dry and accompanied recitatives, arias, duets, trios and choirs, and is characterized by descriptive and onomatopoeic musical elements, which evoke with great effect the various aspects of winter / the coldest season of the year.

"A fertility of invention, a wealth of colors that have something prodigious, and certain effects of which our amateurs attribute the invention to Mendelssohn and Schumann already exist in this marvelous work."

this is the flattering judgment of the composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

Joseph Haydn: The Seasons - Nikolaus Harnoncourt - Salzburg 2013
Henry Purcell (1659 -1695) Now Winter Comes Slowly from "The Fairy-Queen"

Perhaps there is no music that captures the desolate darkness of winter as vividly as the air  Now Winter Comes Slowly (Here comes winter slowly) taken from the fourth act of La Queen of the Fairies (The Fairy-Queen, 1692) by the English composer Henry Purcell. It is a so-called semi-opera in which the sung parts alternate with other spoken ones, created starting from an anonymous adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare.

In the fourth act of this masterpiece of the English Baroque theater, Purcell brings up the personifications of the four seasons, all represented with great effectiveness, but the bare, desolate and winter world evoked by this piece in which the music is almost pervaded with frost, is particularly memorable.

Not surprisingly, Sting included the piece on his album  If on a Winter's Night (2009), transposing late 17th century music into the sparkling, ethereal and slightly electronic sound world of the 21st century. 

Henry Purcell - The Fairy Queen - “Now Winter Comes Slowly” (Winter 1:30:07) Performed by English Baroque Soloists Conducted by John Eliot Gardiner
Josef Strauss (1827 - 1870) Winterlust Polka (Winter Delights)

We completely change the atmosphere by moving to the magnificent and lively Vienna of the Strausses: Josef Strauss, exponent of the great dynasty of Viennese musicians and younger brother of the famous Johann Strauss II, was considered "the Schubert of the waltz" due to his character as a romantic artist.

In addition to famous waltzes he composed numerous highly successful polkas and mazurkas, among which one of the most popular is the delicious Winterlust Polka written on the occasion of a sumptuous Grand Masked Ball for the Viennese Carnival season of 1862.

Josef Strauss - Winterlust Polka (Winter Delights) - Wiener Philharmoniker, Lorin Maazel, Neujahrskonzert 2005
Émile Waldteufel (1837–1915) Waltz Les Patineurs (Ice skaters)

From Vienna to Paris on the notes of another famous composer of dance music, Émile Waldteufel, French composer and conductor, also like Strauss from a family of successful musicians, and author of over 250 dances.

His waltz Les Patineurs  is one of the most famous winter pieces of classical music. Written in 1882, it is inspired by the sight of Parisians skating on the frozen Seine as in Renoir's painting, Cercle des Patineurs at the Bois de Boulogne (1868).

Of all Waldteufel's compositions, this is the most successful piece, still performed today all over the world.

The introduction of the waltz can be compared to the balancing act of a skater and the whole piece recalls a winter atmosphere, further underlined by the sound of the bells.

Émile Waldteufel - The Skater's Waltz, Op. 183. Conductor: Alfred Walter Orchestra: Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra
Pëtr Il'ič Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Symphony n.1

Symphony No. 1, which the composer titled Winter dreams,  it had a painful genesis. On February 15, 1868 it was performed for the first time in Moscow, under the direction of Nikolai Rubinštejn, and achieved good success. Tchaikovsky, very demanding and critical of his works, wanted to revise the score, also motivated by the criticisms received from his teachers Anton Rubinstein and Nicolai Zaremba, arriving at the final version of 1874.

The Symphony consists of four movements: the first movement, Cheerful quiet, with the subtitle Dreams of a winter trip  it has a typically Russian character, which is evident above all in the beautiful first theme - the music, full of mystery, evokes a journey through the Russian snowy expanses, where on calm nights the light of the stars is reflected.

The second half, Land of desolation, land of mist, is full of cantabile cues of deep melancholy - the musical theme almost corresponds to a nocturne in the form of a song in which the viola, violins and oboe continue in a lament that transports us to a world of fairy tales, like the one described later in ballets.

The third movement,  Joke. Cheerful playful joking, without a title, it has an obstinate rhythmic movement, one imagines skaters juggling on the ice., while the Trio is made up of a waltz, the first of a series of Cajkovskian orchestral waltzes.

The fourth time, The final is introduced by a brief Andante lugubre,  then flows into  Allegro moderato - Allegro majestic, evoking a popular festival, full of enthusiasm and color, which concludes the symphony. 

Tchaikovsky - 1. Sinfonie (Winterträume) hr-Sinfonieorchester, Paavo Järvi - Alte Oper Frankfurt 2012.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas ("The four seasons of Buenos Aires")

From the southern hemisphere comes a composition dedicated to the Seasons with a completely different imprint, the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas by Astor Piazzolla, also known as The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Based like most of Piazzolla's works on his interpretation of Argentine tango, the four passages of the Seasons were originally written as separate compositions and only later grouped into a suite.

 The Invierno Porteño, from 1969, constitutes the 2nd Movement of the Suite, and as for the other pieces, the original instrumentation was that of the Quintetto di Piazzolla: bandoneon. violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass, although numerous arrangements and orchestrations are possible. 

Astor Piazzolla - The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires - Arranged for piano trio by José Bragato
Claude Debussy (1862–1918) The Snow is dancing from "Childrens' Corner"

This delightful piano miniature comes from Claude Debussy's Children's Corner ("Children's Corner"), a piano suite published in 1908 and dedicated to his three-year-old daughter, Claude-Emma, known as Chou-chou, as written on the first edition : "To my dear little Chouchou, with her father's tenderest apologies for what follows."

The Snow is dancing it is the fourth of the six tracks in which the suite is divided, and it marvelously captures the swirling effect of snowflakes in the wind: the rhythm on alternating notes in counter-tempo perfectly conveys the idea of the dance of falling snowflakes as they whirl . 

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli - Debussy, Children's Corner, L.113, IV The Snow is Dancing (1962)
Aleksandr Glazunov (1865-1936) Winter from the Ballet The Seasons

Aleksandr Konstantinovich Glazunov, Russian composer and conductor, was the most performed Russian composer of his time along with Tchaikovsky and Rimski-Korsakov. He is the author of numerous orchestral and piano compositions and several ballets, including also Raymonda. The allegorical ballet The Concert, choreographed by Marius Petipa, was composed in 1899 and was staged for the first time in 1900 by the Imperial Ballet of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.  

The ballet, divided into four paintings, begins with The winter, on the notes of four pleasant Variations the personifications of Frost, Ice, Hail and Snow appear, each with its own dance, followed by two gnomes who light a fire to chase away the freezing winter temperatures and make room for spring which, the swirling snowflakes they finally performed in a waltz. The kind of transition to the next spring begins with lighting a fire that should help drive out the winter cold.

Aleksandr Glazunov - The Seasons, Op.67 - 1. Winter · Royal Philharmonic Orchestra · Vladimir Ashkenazy - 1999

Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928–2016) Cantus Arcticus

The Finnish Einojuhani Rautavaara, a prolific and eclectic author, is the greatest composer of his country after Jean Sibelius. “Cantus Arcticus” is one of his best known and most evocative works: it combines orchestral writing with the recording of birdsong - including that of the coastal lark and the call of the wild swan - recorded near the Arctic Circle.

Subtitled "Concerto for birds and orchestra", the work is divided into three movements, - La Palude - Melancholy - Migrant Swans, and was performed for the first time in 1972 in Oulu, at the local university that had commissioned it. 

Einojuhani Rautavaara - Cantus Arcticus - Orchester philharmonique de Radio France - Mikko Franck
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