Summer is here! School’s out, and the British public are escaping the unpredictable weather by fleeing to sunnier climes. Those long summer evenings are the perfect time to sit back, pour out a gin and tonic, and let yourself drift away to some classical music. We’ve rounded up some of our favourite musical works that evoke the sights and sounds of summer.
1. The Lark Ascending, Ralph Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending has got to be one of the most popular pieces of classical music of all time, and for good reason. Inspired by the poem of the same name by George Meredith, Vaughan Williams’ piece for violin and orchestra was first premiered in 1922. Meredith’s words, as well as Vaughan Williams’ soaring melody, evoke the image of a beautiful summer’s day:
For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.
2. Summer Night on the River, Frederick Delius
Frederick Delius wrote this beautifully evocative work soon after he had moved to the small French village of Grez. His villa backed onto the river Loing, and the composer spent hours contemplating the movements and sounds of the water on long summer evenings. The result is this impressionistic and atmospheric piece that perfectly captures rocking boats and gentle lapping currents.
3. Summer Days Suite, Eric Coates
Eric Coates (1886-1957) is an underappreciated great British composer. After establishing himself as one of the country’s foremost viola players, Coates turned to composition and produced a number of orchestral suites. Much of his work, including the Summer Days Suite, was strongly influenced by the work of another British composer, Edward German.
4. Summer Music, Arnold Bax
Arnold Bax’s Summer Music is wonderfully atmospheric, recalling the joy of a warm summer’s day in the countryside. Bax was particularly influenced by the poetry of WB Yeats and the folklore of Ireland. Bax spent years exploring the rural areas of Ireland, and this comes through in his idyllic pastoral music.
5. En Bateau, Claude Debussy
En Bateau is the opening movement from Debussy’s Petite Suite, a piano work for four hands. Inspired by a poem by Paul Verlaine, En Bateau brings to mind scenes of a romantic journey by boat, sailing across calm waters at dusk.
6. The Bluebird, Charles Villiers Stanford
The Bluebird is one of Stanford’s most contemplative and beautiful choral works. His rich and slow-moving a cappella arrangement is set to the words of a poem by Mary Coleridge:
The lake lay blue below the hill,
O’er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.
The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue,
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.
7. Espana: Tango, Isaac Albeniz
This piece by Isaac Albeniz is evocative of a warm Spanish night: sit back and imagine drinking red wine at a street side bar, watching the world go slowly by. Originally written as a piano piece, this sultry music was later arranged for two guitars.
8. A Somerset Rhapsody, Gustav Holst
Holst’s Somerset Rhapsody, composed in 1906, was dedicated to Cecil Sharp, the well-known collector of English folk songs. The composition draws on three songs collected by Sharp: “The Sheep-Shearing Song” (or “It’s a Rosebud in June”), “The Lover’s Farewell” and “High Germany”.
9. Three Small Tone Poems, No. 1, Summer Evening, Frederick Delius
Delius’ “small tone poems” were dedicated to three of the seasons: spring, summer and winter. In Summer Evening, Delius attempts to capture the feeling of a languid summer day in a fairly short piece. Its harmonious melodies recalls bird songs and whistled extracts from folk songs.
10. Sicilienne, Gabriel Faure
Faure’s well-known piece captures the atmospheric mood of sunny Sicily. Originally written for cello and piano, here you can hear it arranged for flute and piano. Tinged with nostalgia, Sicilienne perfectly evokes the last beautiful days of summer before autumn begins to draw in.
One for luck: Summer is Icumen In, Anonymous
Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu
and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu
Awe bleteþ after lomb
lhouþ after calue cu
murie sing cuccu
Wel singes þu cuccu
ne swik þu nauer nu
Sing cuccu nu • Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu • Sing cuccu nu