Although we haven’t officially made it to the winter solstice yet, the weather outside certainly feels like winter has arrived. So this week on the show, we’re exploring pieces all about trying to keep warm from the winter weather, a show we’re calling “Hibernation.”
Keep warm with our frosty playlist below:
- John Williams (b. 1932), Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: The Battle in the Snow – The second Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back opens in the nightmarish wintery scene known as the ice planet Hoth, accompanied of course by the chilling music of John Williams. The rebels are hiding out on Hoth, hoping not to be discovered by Darth Vader and his imperial fighters. There, they brave the frostbitten weather as well as dangerous yeti-like snow monsters known as wampas. At one point, Luke Skywalker nearly dies in the cold, but he’s saved by Han Solo, who cuts open the body of a beast known as a tauntaun, shoving Luke inside the tauntaun to keep him warm. To create the hellish frozen landscape on film, George Lucas and his team settled on a glacier in Norway as the location of Hoth. While in Norway, the cast and crew battled a 50-year snowstorm which dumped 18 feet of snow and dropped temperatures to 20 below.
- Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), The Seasons: Winter – No. 39, Trio and Chorus (Finale) – After the huge success of his magnificent oratorio, The Creation, Haydn teamed up again with librettist Gottfried von Swieten, who translated portions of James Thomson’s poem The Seasons into German for another oratorio. Like The Creation, The Seasons features three soloists. Rather than representing biblical characters however, they play archetypal country folk. The libretto has no storyline in the traditional sense. Rather, the listener is guided through pastoral scenes according to each of the seasons. In Winter, for example, a traveler discovers a cottage after wandering through the snow. He finds shelter inside, and listens to the poems of a woman who sits at a spinning wheel. Though Winter is the final season represented in the oratorio, the point of the work overall is to glorify the cyclical nature of the seasons and the rebirth of life. As Winter concludes, Haydn writes a last joyful chorus, the country folk sing about the dawn of life in heaven, and the seasons start all over again.
- Franz Schubert (1797–1828), Winterreise: 10. Rast – One of Schubert’s masterpieces, the song cycle Winterreise or “Winter’s Journey,” comes from three different publications of poems by Wilhelm Müller. Like Schubert’s other Müller song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin, the poems are reflections of a lover’s rejection, isolation, and depression. In this song cycle, the poet sets out on an isolated journey set in a frozen winter landscape. The tenth song of the cycle title “Rast” (or “Rest”) is about trying to find some warmth from the chilly winter air. Our wanderer has grown weary and finds a charcoal burner’s hut to hibernate in for a time. Once his limbs warm up, he notices another fire burning, but this one coming from inside of him. The wounds caused by his lost lover burn with rage, rising up in his heart like a, quote “dragon… with its red hot dart.”
- Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924), La Bohème: Act I, Scene 1 – Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is a popular tear-jerker at any time of year, but it’s especially popular around the winter time. Most of the opera takes place in the cold, and it even opens on a cold winter night. In this opening scene, our two struggling Bohemian artists Rodolfo and Marcello are just trying to keep warm—so they burn the manuscripts of Rodolfo’s failed dramas in the fire to heat up their loft. Puccini’s La Bohème has been beloved since its premiere in 1896, however composer Ruggero Leoncavallo wasn’t as lucky. Leoncavallo was working on his own version of La Bohème, adapting the novel Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger at the exact same time as Puccini. However, Leoncavallo’s opera premiered the following year, and has since been mostly forgotten.
- Erik Satie (1866–1925), Pièces froides (Cold Pieces): Trois Airs à fuir (Tunes to make you run away) – While many composers wrote about ways to keep warm in the cold, Satie’s approach was to write a piece called Cold Pieces, and then ignore the topic altogether. Satie’s playfully absurd style is out in full force in this set piano works of 1897. At this point in his career, Satie was just about to abandon the Bohemian section of Paris known as Montmartre and take up residency in a quieter suburb, although in this move he abandoned few of his eccentricities. Only Satie would write a work called Cold Pieces that has nothing to do with being cold. In all likelihood, Satie simply liked the way the words sounded together or, perhaps, enjoyed the logical impossibility of music actually being “cold.” Alternatively, the title may somehow reflect the poverty that Satie was about to leave behind in his move from Montmartre. The title of the opening movement, Three Tunes To Make You Run Away, presents an ironic humor that is more easily deciphered. Nothing about the wandering, tranquil quality of the piece would cause the listener to want to run away.
- Alexander Glazunov (1865–1936), The Seasons: I. Winter – Gnomes – Following in the footsteps of Antonio Vivaldi and Franz Joseph Haydn, Russian composer Alexander Glazunov wrote a piece in 1900 depicting the four seasons. Glazunov’s work, however, was a ballet choreographed by the famed ballet master Marius Petipa. It’s an allegorical ballet, with different weather phenomena represented by their own dance and music. Winter kicks off the ballet, with depictions of frost, ice, hail, and snow—each with their own showcase. As the scene continues, the stage steadily fills with white-clad dancers and snowy imagery until two gnomes appear on stage. They decide to light a fire, and this causes the denizens of Winter to vanish. Spring and summer follow, concluding with an autumn bacchanale after the harvest. Glazunov’s Seasons ballet premiered by the Imperial ballet in 1900, and the performance took place at the Winter Palace, the historic home of the Russian monarchs in St. Petersburg.
- John Playford (1623–1686), “Drive The Cold Winter Away” – Many tunes are attributed to John Playford, but he probably did not write any of them. Playford was first and foremost a music publisher. Under the English Commonwealth, he began printing books on music theory, hymn psalters, instrument manuals and sheet music. His shop became a musical hotspot in London, so much so that Playford monopolized the business of music publishing in England. Drive the Cold Winter Away is one of the most enduring Playford tunes, appearing under several titles, such as All Hail To The Days and In Praise Of Christmas. The words and melody were likely first circulated in Elizabethan England as a Broadside Ballad. These were large, single sheets of printed paper sold on the London streets for a penny or half-penny and containing popular songs of the day. By the Victorian era, Broadside Ballads were considered highly collectible and compiled together in books called Garlands.
- Bruce Sled (b. 1975), Ice – Composer Bruce Sled knows a thing or two about the cold, and not just because his last name is also a wintertime toy. Sled is from the icy north—a.k.a. Canada—and studied composition at the University of British Columbia in the late 1990s. He’s primarily a composer of choral music, and his works have been performed by choirs all over the world. His work “Ice” is a wordless piece for choir, and its music evokes the sounds of a melting icy lake in the gradual change from winter into spring. About this piece, the composer wrote, “Fluid lines sung by treble voices are gradually taken over by whispering and speaking, gently melting into silence. This musical process is inspired by the beauty of the slowness of nature, changing gradually in ways that are both subtle and sublime.”
- Irving Berlin (1888–1989), “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” – The Irving Berlin song “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” is heard often around Christmas-Time, but it’s not officially a “Christmas Song.” The song was introduced in the 1937 film musical On The Avenue starring Dick Powell and Alice Faye. The plot of On The Avenue is a typical “backstage musical,” all about the inner workings of putting on a show, with a love story at the center of the tale. This is also the same basic plot as Irving Berlin’s other more-Christmas-themed film musicals Holiday Inn and White Christmas, and his other less-chilly musicals like Top Hat, Blue Skies, and There’s No Business Like Show Business. This version that we just heard was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1937, the year the film came out, and she kept it as part of her repertoire for many years, singing it again in 1955.