Top 5 Wintriest Works

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snowy day in New York City (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/Getty)

Snowflakes danced for both Tchaikovsky and Debussy, but anyone suffering during this frigid winter season can probably relate better to the existential anguish suffered underneath a blankets of snow than the romanticized version. We’ve gathered five works that best describe this brutally cold season.

1. With individual songs titled “Frozen Tears,” “Numbness,” and “Thoughts of Springtime” Schubert’s Winterreise captures the season at its chilliest, both literally and metaphorically. The works’ protagonist, a poet, ventures out into a snowy evening. As he wanders farther from home, he shivers through the cold, grieves for his lost love, and laments his own loneliness. Brief glimpses of hope and warmer times are drowned out in the bleakness of Schubert’s winterscape.

2. David Lang’s Pulitzer-Prize winning work for chorus, Little Match Girl Passion, sets to music the classic Hans Christian Andersen story about a young girl, who freezes to death trying to sell matches to help support her abusive father. She wanders barefoot through the snow, and tragically, she uses up all her matches trying to warm her frostbitten fingers. Scored for four voices and spare percussion, the haunting piece has a succinct score to match the desolation described in the libretto.

3. The “Winter” of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a force of nature, with whipping winds, driving snows and treacherous ice. In the sonnets Vivaldi wrote to accompany his most famous work, the composer describes this concerto’s opening movement as chattering teeth; the bitter cold contrasts with the warmth of a roaring fire in the second movement; and the third and final movement turns back outside along frozen paths—a familiar scenario for any New Yorker over the past two months.

4. Thomas Hardy, a frequent source of inspiration for Benjamin Britten, inspired the composer’s song cycle Winter Words. It begins with a harbinger of the season, leaves falling off trees in November. It then sets several icy scenes, especially “The chorusmaster’s burial,” the fifth of the eight songs. The Britten-Pears Foundation, calls the works “leaner” than Britten’s previous compositions—an appropriate description for the season.

5. Originally written for the 1948 film, Scott of Antartic, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Sinfonia Antartica was created out of his movie score. Both the film and symphony tell the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s failed Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. Scott’s team made it to the Pole to discover that a team of Norwegians had been there first. On the way back, all five members of the team, including Scott, died from exposure. The eerie glacial qualities of Vaughan Williams’s work is the composer at his most atonal, evokes the barren landscape at the Pole.


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Comments [11]

EM from somewhere in the north

What about those of us that don't think of winter as bleak? What if we see it as peaceful, or fun, or cozy? This list makes a lot of assumptions and alienates some.

Jan. 07 2015 01:32 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

I sang a role inh the American Premiere of Ralph Vaughn Williams opera Sir John In Love based on Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor. His other works even more familiar and his sea chanteys mark him as a most versatile composer. Announcers on WQXR krepo pronouncing his first name as Rafe not Ralph. How come? One of our current very active bloggers has a deep diisaffection with the heldentenor voice. To set the record straight, I have been singing and studying the entire Wagner heldentenor oeuvre with the leading Wagner conductors and singers, besides singing those roles and recordings unretouched testify to my singing voice's Wagnerian timbre, power, distance projection and stamina. Of my 4 three hour long solo concerts in the main hall of Carnegie Hall, two were ALL-WAGNER concerts. On my websites:, and 15 selections of the Wagner heldentenor roles from Rienzi to Parsifal, jncluding Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, Gotterdammerung Siegfried, Tristan and Walther von Stolzing may be downloaded along with music critics of major newspaper and music magazines, free, at Recorded Selections. My favorite selections are Amfortas ! die Wunde !, Siegmund heiss' ich and Schmiede mein Hammer. The recordings live, unretouched may be downloaded, free, at Recorded Selections on my websites. You be the judge. I also am an opera composer with two operas, each around three hours long, written for a single protagonist heldentenor representing the title role of Shakespeare, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare." They are expected to be obtainable in 2 years on my 6 websites in cart arrangements for paying for the showings' downloads. HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE

Jan. 07 2015 09:49 AM
Hannah from Minneapolis

Nothing captures the never-ending expanse of a cold, snowy landscape like the haunting opening solo line of the Siberlius violin concerto. A really good performance(such as by Leonidas Kavakos) will give you chills as if you are in the middle of a Finnish(or for that matter, Minnesotan) winter

Jan. 06 2015 11:38 PM
Bob H. from North Babylon, New York

How about Act III of La Boheme? Franco Zefirelli's production at the MET does a terrific job of it. Even Act I depicts the cold in the garrett.

Jan. 06 2015 04:02 PM
Mat Dirjish from NY

I would add Six Chansons by Paul Hindemith.

Jan. 06 2015 01:16 PM
gary from Saddle Brook, NJ

I always enjoy "Cantus Arcticus" by Rautavaara when it's wintery outside.

Jan. 06 2015 11:09 AM
Adele (aka AF) from Nassau County, Long Island

Also appropriate for this winter are two pieces I heard recently ("on another station") of the Russian composer Georgy Sviridov: "The Snowstorm," musical sketches to a story by Pushkin, and a lovely cantata called "Snow is Falling" (or "It is Snowing").

Feb. 20 2014 03:08 AM
Adele (aka AF) from Nassau County, Long Island

A favorite of mine is from the 20th century, the Winter movement in Rick Sowash's piano trio "Four Seasons in Bellville" (Ohio).

Feb. 20 2014 02:34 AM
Jared from Greenwich CT

I wanted to offer what I think is one of the finest examples sonically of winter (and a brutally sustained and utterly unforgiving one at that): "Ein Alpensinfonie" aka An Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss. It's both symphony and icy nature tone poem simultaneously. One can even hear the snowy winds swirling around the majestic peak (The work includes, within the large percussion section a "wind machine" as well as a "thunder machine"). It's a pretty massive and powerful work. If you do not know it, check it out- especially now while the temp outside is oft cruel!!

Feb. 19 2014 10:27 PM
Gev Sweeney from The Jerseu Shore

Oh yeh, nothing says "winter" like bleakness and despondency, and you can't get much bleaker or despondent than Die Winterreise. The last song, Der Leiermann,is a real downer, especially because it has the closed-mouth, emotional repression of someone who's given up and doesn't care anymore. Some peeps think the impoverished hurdy-gurdy player--the Leiermann of the title--is the protagonist of the cycle. Fun times.

Feb. 19 2014 05:16 PM
Robert St.Onge from Cochiti Lake,NM

Of course, this year's question is "Must the winter come so soon?" from Barber's 'Vanessa'. Too bad there's no aria entitled, "Will this winter never end?"

Feb. 19 2014 02:11 PM

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