April 2016 marks Earth Day’s 25th Anniversary. We’ve put together a playlist that celebrates all of the nuanced, fragile beauty of our planet. Inspired by nature, these songs by some of chamber music’s most prolific artists will hopefully bring you a little closer to what we so often take for granted: our very surroundings. Enjoy.
- Composer Arnold Bax’s November Woods is an ode to the dark side of Fall. Written during a particularly emotional period in his life when Bax’s marriage fell apart and he embarked on an affair with another woman, he has likened the piece to the turbulence of a storm in late autumn.
- Ludwig van Beethoven particularly loved the countryside and Symphony No. 6, otherwise known as the Pastoral Symphony, is one of the few pieces he wrote containing programmatic content. ‘Pastoral’ is meant to musically paint a narrative for the listener, in this case: a lovely afternoon in the country.
- “Peter Grimes” is an opera by Benjamin Britten that contains the Four Sea Interludes. Later published separately as Op. 33a, the orchestral suite invokes the sometimes tumultuous, deceivingly calm, and grand nature of the ocean. In Britten’s case, a mid-19th century Suffolk coastal village that is the location for “Peter Grimes”.
- Pay homage to the forest spirits with Tapiola, Op. 112, a tone poem by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The haunting, melancholic piece was written on commision for the New York Philharmonic Society to portray Tapio, the animating forest spirit from Kalevala, a significant work of Finnish literature.
- The light, whimsical notes of The Lark Ascending by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was composed for violin and piano, based on the 122-line poem of the same name by English poet George Meredith. The piece has far eclipsed the poem in popularity, and its uplifting melodies are widely beloved by British audiences.
- Felix Mendelssohn’s concert overture The Hebrides, Op. 26, better known as Fingal’s Cave, was inspired by the very place of the same name off the west coast of Scotland. The grandeur of the piece–and place–is evident in every dramatic note, which was dedicated to King Frederick William IV of Prussia.
- Inspired by the oceans of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, John Luther Adams composed Become Ocean on commission for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. The Pulitzer Prize-winning piece also won a 2015 Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. The single movement is dark, dynamic, and an hommage to life’s inherent link to the sea.
- The delicate melancholy in Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude Op. 28, No. 15 beautifully translates the simplicity of nature in the repetition of A-flat to sound like raindrops. Hence, the Raindrop prelude.
- No playlist celebrating nature would be complete without Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Literally a soundtrack to the seasons, the four violin concerti take one through every emotion possible through various, masterfully orchestrated tempos.
What are your favourite pieces that honour and evoke nature? Share with us via the comments below!