The best classical music for winter
We select our favourite wintry classical music works to accompany your cold winter evenings
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker
This two-act ballet is a winter classic. The top US ballet companies earn around 40% of their yearly ticket revenue from this work! The Nutcracker premiered on 18 December 1892, and was judged harshly by its first audiences. However, with its entrancing characters, Christmas Eve setting and its depiction of family and friends, let this delightful masterpiece warm you up during the coldest evenings of winter.
Read our reviews of the latest Tchaikovsky recordings here
You can read more articles about Tchaikovsky and his work here
Joseph Haydn – ‘Winter’, The Seasons
Haydn’s ‘Winter’, from the 1801 oratorio The Seasons, is a suitable work to accompany those dark and chilly nights this season. Strangely, there are documents that suggest Haydn was dissatisfied with sections of the libretto; written in the margins of one of the scores, Haydn allegedly said that he was ‘forced to write this Frenchified trash’.
Despite Haydn’s possible reservations, the scale of this work alone is impressive enough. With the oratorio’s grand orchestration – which even includes an alto, tenor and bass trombone, as well as three solo voices – the scale of this work will complement the imposing snowstorms and fog that cloaks the landscape at this time of year!
Read our reviews of the latest Haydn recordings here
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JS Bach – Christmas Oratorio
Now it’s time for some uplifting winter music…. Far from the bleak and dreary nights, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio opens with an overwhelming sense of energy and joy. The work was written for the 1734 Christmas period; the oratorio traces the Nativity story from the birth of Christ through to the adoration of the Magi. What better way to cheer up a wintry afternoon?!
BBC Music named Bach the greatest ever composer
Read our reviews of the latest Bach recordings here
Read more articles about Bach and his work here
Felix Mendelssohn – ‘Vom Himmel hoch’
This cantata opens with a chorus entitled ‘From Heaven’; whether you are watching the rain fall, or even the snow, this work’s vivacious opening should lift your spirits! Mendelssohn was evidently entranced by the winter season, since he composed numerous works with a title or subject based upon this time of year.
If you are seeking further merriment to complement the falling snow, look no further than Mendelssohn’s Six Christmas Pieces, Op. 72, and – of course – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!
Read our reviews of the latest Mendelssohn recordings here
Read more about Felix Mendelssohn and his works here
Sergei Prokofiev – ‘Troika’ from Lieutenant Kijé Suite
Prokofiev’s score was originally intended to accompany a film, but as a result of the work’s success, the composer released a five-movement suite. Premiered in December 1934, this is another optimistic take on this divisive season! The ‘Troika’, the penultimate movement of the suite, features sleigh bells and pizzicato strings, both of which contribute to the image of the three-horse sled that Prokofiev intends to evoke.
Read our reviews of the latest Prokofiev recordings here
Franz Liszt – Christmas Tree Suite
Keeping the Christmas spirit alive, Liszt dedicated this set of 12 piano pieces to his first granddaughter. The work was premiered on Christmas Day, 1881. The location of the premiere? His granddaughter’s hotel room. What a gift to receive at Christmas, and what a way to celebrate the beauty of the winter season by listening to this fantastic work!
Read our reviews of the latest Liszt recordings here
Read more about Liszt and his works here
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.