Illustration: Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, Hendrick Avercamp, v. 1608
How bitter-sweet it is, through winter's numbing nights,
to listen as the dancing, smoky fire evokes
a vision from the distant past whose muted flights
ascend through swirling fog on tolling vesper's strokes.
‘Winter, you are nought but a rogue’, Charles Duke of Orléans
The temperament of Winter is famous in poetry as well as in music. Vivaldi, in his final concerto of the Four Seasons, evokes the torrential rain, the biting cold and the icy wind typical of the year’s final months. He creates this wintery scene with quick, repeated patterns played on the violin accompanied by accented, biting chords in the harpsichord. Alexander Glazunov, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, also characterises winter in his ballet “The Seasons“, choreographed by Marius Petipa. Its four scenes offer a musical journey through the snow, hail, frost and ice, carried by the light sound of the flute and a chorus of violins.
“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow“
One of the most anticipated elements of winter is snow. It covers the earth with its crisp white blanket, delighting young and old alike. It’s symbolism and imagery are irresistible to many artists and it is often depicted in music. Leopold Mozart, father of the ever-famous Wolfgang Amadeus, composed a sled race in the snow, accompanied by the delicate jingling of bells. In contrast to the joyous musical episode, Debussy preferred a melancholy depiction of footsteps in the snow, in the delicate composition of the same name (Des pas sur la neige).
“Awake, awake and from thy furry mantle shake”
Winter is a time when one year comes to a close and new one begins. Finishing the year frozen, the thaw begins at the end of February to make way for the lively spring. In Purcell’s Act 3 of King Arthur, Cupid – personifying spring – wakes the character, the “Cold Genius” or the spirit of winter from his slumber and orders him to cover the land with ice and cold. His answer to this demand is sung in the dramatic aria, “What power art thou?”, also referred to as The Cold Song.
Despite its cool temperature and short days, Winter remains a season full of reunions and joyous celebration. Just like Clara and her family in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, many of us prepare thoroughly for Christmas, decorating the tree and packaging our gifts. Throughout the month of December, DiscMuseum offers you an advent calendar featuring some of the season’s best Christmas Carols. Join us in our musical journey through winter!