Give Now

Five Classics For The Summer Heat

Celebrate the solstice with these five pieces inspired by heat, love, and celebration--all the makings of a memorable summer.

HollywoodBowl

Photo: David Hwang

Summer is the season for outdoor music festivals and concerts. Here, the Los Angeles Philharmonic performs at the Hollywood Bowl.

Aaron Copland: Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo"
San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas — Copland: Appalachian Spring; Billy the Kid; Rodeo (RCA Red Seal, 2005)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

The ballet Rodeo, scored by Copland and choreographed by Agnes de Mille, is quintessentially American–a love story with a score full of western folk songs. The story follows a “lone Cowgirl” whose advances are spurned by the Head Wrangler, only to (spoiler alert!) end up with him at the end of the ballet. Between the dramatic outer sections is the gorgeous and contemplative “Corral Nocturne” that depicts the Cowgirl sadly wandering the moonlit ranch. In this symphonic version, Copland included most of the ballet, including the famous “Hoe-Down” finale.

Frederick Delius: In a Summer Garden
London Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Collins — DeLius: In a Summer Garden/Paris/Summer Night (Eloquence Australia, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Frederick Delius spent one of his early years managing a Florida orange plantation but, constantly distracted by his musical ambitions, it wasn’t long before he quit and became a full-time composer. The Florida heat must have left an impression on him, however, as the Englishman went on to write three tone-poems with “summer” in the title: this one in 1908, Summer Night on the River in 1911, and A Song of Summer in 1931. “Summer” title aside, this work’s lushness gives it the musical humidity of a late July day: The middle section is predominated by dense, passionate string melodies accompanied by soaring horns. A couplet by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, included in the score, may reveal the inspiration behind the flowery, singing melodies:

All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love.

To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang.

Richard Wagner: Prelude to "Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg"
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan — Wagner: Overtures & Preludes (Deutsche Grammophon, 1995)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

This historically-inspired opera tells the story of a midsummer singing competition in 16th-century Nuremburg. In this way, Die Meistersinger is unique for Wagner in that it has a real, non-magical setting. As is the case with most of this playlist (and, admittedly, with most of Western art), there is a love story here. But the tale is also full of other themes, with the discussion of old vs. new in the world of art of central importance. Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger embodies the joyous, festive mood of the 4 1/2 hour opera in a much more accessible length.

George Gershwin: Cuban Overture
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine — Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue/Cuban Overture/Porgy and Bess Suite/An American in Paris (Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Gershwin jumps right in to the heat of things in his wild Cuban Overture. The opening’s heavy Latin percussion and jazzy trumpet lines evoke late-night dancing at a Cuban bar. A slow, sensuous middle section follows, transitioning from a lighthearted clarinet cadenza to a languid melody that seems oppressed by the sweltering heat. The colorful opening dance returns to close the piece, finishing with a frenzied coda that leaves the listener breathless.

Claude Debussy: Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun"
Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez — Debussy: Images / Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune / Printemps (Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover

Chromatic, lush, and mysterious. One doesn’t even need to read the poem that inspired Debussy to hear the sounds of a lazy summer afternoon in the forest (although trying to make sense of Mallarmé’s dense prose is a fun challenge in itself). The opening flute solo has become a symbol for impressionism in music, a style essentially invented by Debussy. A common misunderstanding: The title refers to the endeavors of a faun (a mythical half-man-half-goat), not a baby deer.

Aaron Copland: Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo"
San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas — Copland: Appalachian Spring; Billy the Kid; Rodeo (RCA Red Seal, 2005)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Frederick Delius: In a Summer Garden
London Symphony Orchestra, Anthony Collins — DeLius: In a Summer Garden/Paris/Summer Night (Eloquence Australia, 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Richard Wagner: Prelude to "Die Meistersinger von Nurnburg"
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Herbert von Karajan — Wagner: Overtures & Preludes (Deutsche Grammophon, 1995)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
George Gershwin: Cuban Overture
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine — Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue/Cuban Overture/Porgy and Bess Suite/An American in Paris (Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Claude Debussy: Prelude to "The Afternoon of a Faun"
Cleveland Orchestra, Pierre Boulez — Debussy: Images / Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune / Printemps (Deutsche Grammophon, 1993)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Sam Callahan

Sam Callahan graduated from IU in 2013 with degrees in Trumpet Performance and Economics. He is now a student at Harvard Law School.

View all posts by this author »

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Search Arts and Music

Stay Connected

RSS e-mail itunes Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Indiana Public Media Arts & Music:

Recent Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Events RSS icon

More Events »Submit Your Event »

Arts & Music is on Twitter

Find Us on Facebook

This Week on Harmonia Early Music

Thanks And Praise

saint cecilia

Gratitude is a theme often explored in early music, and we’ll hear expressions of thanks from a variety of sources on this edition of Harmonia.

Read more »

Harmonia Early Music is a nationally syndicated weekly early music radio program, podcast and blog produced by WFIU Public Radio.

More from Harmonia »