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Five Classics For The Summer Heat

The ballet Rodeo, scored by Copland and choreographed by Agnes de Mille, is quintessentially Americana 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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