There’s a rich assortment of music about springtime in the classical repertoire, ranging from, to Beethoven’s (not that Beethoven himself ever called it a “Spring” Sonata), to Vivaldi’s perennially popular (pun definitely intended) violin concerto, from The Four Seasons. In fact, there’s so much classical music for this season, that for this list, we’ll narrow things down by featuring lovely but lesser-known pieces celebrating the return of spring.
Francesco Landini (c.1325-1397) was a Florentine composer and poet writing just before the period we now call the Renaissance. Landini was the son of a painter, but when he lost his sight from smallpox as a child, he decided to pursue another art form: music. In addition to composing madrigals and other vocal works, Landini was an organist and an organbuilder. His(Spring Is Here) is a joyful paean to the awakening of warmth and love.
Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (c. 1656-1746) was a Baroque German Kapellmeister who composed organ music, operas, and orchestral works for court entertainment. Fischer kept up with musical developments outside Germany, which we can see from the Italian and French styles he incorporated into his music. His Journal de printems (The Book of Spring, published in 1695) is a set of orchestral suites influenced by the French style of Jean-Baptiste Lully.
Following the success of their oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation), Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and his librettist Gottfried van Swieten decided to collaborate again. This time, instead of the sublime mysteries of creation, they opted for an earthier subject in Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons), Hob. XXI:3. Narrated by peasant characters, The Seasons explores nature and the changing countryside throughout the year. The oratorio opens with an overture that vividly depicts the transformation from winter into spring.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed quite a few Lieder with springtime imagery. One of the loveliest is his Lied “Im Frühling” (In Spring) D. 882, composed in 1826., a poem by Ernst Schulze, reflects upon love and loss amid the beginning of spring. Listen for Schubert’s use of modal mixture (the changing from one mode to another, for example, from major to minor) as the song’s narrator moves between peaceful memories and troubling ones.
Between 1914 and 1919, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) composed his Op. 75, a set of five character pieces for piano. The set is informally known as “The Trees” because each piece was inspired by a different variety of tree: the rowan, the pine, the aspen, the birch, and the spruce. Each tree in this charming set has its own musical character, from a song without words for När rönnen blommar (When The Rowan Blossoms), to a slow waltz for Granen (The Spruce).
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) composed this ecstatic little work for violin and piano in 1914, and it’s not the only springtime work from this French composer who loved jazz and polytonality. Milhaud wrote two volumes of piano works entitled Printemps I & II, and a ballet entitled Jeux de Printemps (Spring Games, 1944), as well as a chamber symphony (Le printemps, 1917) and a work for violin and orchestra (Concertino de printemps, 1934).
“Of a Spring Morning” is an Impressionistic tone poem by French composer Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), who was the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome for composition. Despite a lifetime of chronic illness, Boulanger composed more than fifty innovative works before her tragic death at age of 24. D’un matin du printemps, composed in Boulanger’s last year, is full of life, color, and the promise of a new season.
In 1927, Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) composed a set of tone poems inspired by the works of early Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510). Respighi’s Trittico botticelliano (Three Botticelli Pictures), Op. 151, opens with La Primavera, inspired byof the same name. Respighi scores Botticelli’s bucolic scene with Renaissance dance rhythms and imitations of birdsong.
American art song composer John Woods Duke (1899-1984) penned this pensive work in 1928.is by A.E. Houseman, whose poetry from A Shropshire Lad inspired many composers in the nineteen-teens and twenties. Houseman’s poetry often deals with youth and mortality, especially in the context of war. In this wistful song, Duke beautifully captures the poem’s images of fleeting cherry blossoms and the value of beauty.