The weather is turning milder, days are longer, and the first buds of spring blossoms are starting to show. To celebrate, we take a look at some of the best music inspired by the season…
Schumann – Symphony No. 1
The month of March, they say, comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Appropriately, Schumann’s ‘Spring’ Symphony No. 1 introduces itself with something of an icy blast – the composer himself originally subtitled the first movement ‘The beginning of Spring’.
Things then warm up over the next three movements of this wonderfully life-affirming work, first performed under the baton of Felix Mendelssohn in March 1841. After a gentle Larghetto second movement and energetic Scherzo, the buoyant finale celebrates a world in which all is now truly green.
Vivaldi – The Four Seasons: Spring
In Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, ‘Spring’ is joyful, energetic and optimistic. The famous opening movement – full of imitations of birdsong, murmuring brooks, and soft breezes – gives way to a sleepier Largo, in which a goat-herd sleeps next to his faithful dog, represented by a barking viola line, before the final rustic dance of nymphs and shepherds leads the concerto to a harrumphing conclusion.
Delius – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Take a springtime woodland walk and you may be lucky enough to hear the distinctive call of a cuckoo. Delius incorporates the bird’s distinctive sound in his delightful tone poem. Premiered in Leipzig in 1913, it’s the first of his Two Pieces for Small Orchestra. He introduces the bird’s call on the oboe, before it is taken up by strings and then clarinet.
Amy Beach – The Year’s at the Spring
Of Amy Beach’s 150 or so songs, this is possibly the best known. Written in 1899, this soaring and optimistic work is one of three texts Beach set by the English poet Robert Browning.
Britten – The Succession of the Four Sweet Months
In Britten’s setting of this poem by Robert Herrick each of the ‘four sweet months’ is represented by a different voice. First, April, sung by the sopranos ‘opens the way for early flowers’. May is represented ‘in more rich and sweet array’ by the altos, June and the tenors ‘bring us more gems than the two that went before’ and, finally, July arrives in the bass line.
Copland – Appalachian Spring
With its fresh colours, clean lines and dancing rhythms, Copland’s Appalachian Spring has become one of his most popular pieces – primarily in the orchestral suite version of the original ballet.
It tells the tale of a young American pioneer couple who celebrate their springtime wedding and contemplate the joys and challenges of their new life together. The piece culminates in the uplifting variations on the Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’ and ends in serenity.