Piano Music for a Winter’s Day
From swirling winds or silent footsteps trudging through a thick blanket of snow to cosy evenings by the fireside and carols around the Christmas tree, composers have sought to evoke Winter and the festive season in piano music. Playlist curated by Frances Wilson.Read more…
- Debussy • Children's Corner L 119 (113) • 4. The Snow is Dancing (La neige danse). Modérément animéChildren's Corner L 119 (113)
4. The Snow is Dancing (La neige danse). Modérément animéFrançois-Joël Thiollier (Piano)March 1995, Temple Saint Marcel, Paris
- Debussy • Préludes, Book I L 125 (117) • 6. Des pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow). Triste et lent
- Vasks • Die Gadalaiki (The Seasons) (2010) • 1. Balta ainava – White SceneryDie Gadalaiki (The Seasons) (2010)
1. Balta ainava – White SceneryMarcel Worms (Piano)December 2015, Middelburg, Zeeuwse Concertzaal Middelburg
- Liszt • Études d'exécution transcendante S 139 • Etude No. 12 in B flat minor "Chasse-neige"Études d'exécution transcendante S 139
Etude No. 12 in B flat minor "Chasse-neige"Freddy Kempf (Piano)January 2001, Stockholm, Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm
- Bridge • Winter Pastoral for Piano H. 168 • Andante molto moderatoWinter Pastoral for Piano H. 168
Andante molto moderatoMark Bebbington (Piano)January 2010, Birmingham, CBSO Centre, Birmingham
- Tchaikovsky • The Seasons op. 37a TH 135 • January. By the Hearth (Moderato semplice, ma espressivo)The Seasons op. 37a TH 135
January. By the Hearth (Moderato semplice, ma espressivo)Boris Petrushansky (Piano)2011
- Tchaikovsky • The Seasons op. 37a TH 135 • December. Christmas (Tempo di Valse)The Seasons op. 37a TH 135
December. Christmas (Tempo di Valse)Boris Petrushansky (Piano)2011
- Liszt • Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) S 186 • 2. O heilige Nacht! (O holy night)Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) S 186
2. O heilige Nacht! (O holy night)Erzsébet Tusa (Piano), István Lantos (Piano)℗ 2014
- Liszt • Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) S 186 • 6. Carillon (Chimes)Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) S 186
6. Carillon (Chimes)Erzsébet Tusa (Piano), István Lantos (Piano)℗ 2014
- Messiaen • Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus for Piano (1944) • 13. Noël (Christmas)Vingt regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus for Piano (1944)
13. Noël (Christmas)Håkon Austbø (Piano)1993, East Woodhay, St. Martin’s Church East Woodhay
Twentieth-century and contemporary composers are particularly adept at evoking wintry weather, from thick fogs to frozen landscapes, and many utilize the possibilities offered by the modern piano to create highly atmospheric piano music. Claude Debussy and Kenneth Leighton conjure up the fragile delicacy of snowflakes in ‘The Snow is Dancing‘ and ‘Snowflakes’, both works using soft yet focused repeated notes to suggest swirling “dancing” snow. Debussy’s piece in particular also depicts a certain mood on seeing the snow falling, and the main theme is rather melancholy, as if a child is watching the snow from indoors.
Debussy’s other “snow piece”, ‘Des pas sur la neige’ (Footsteps in the Snow), suggests a white landscape after the snow has settled, and the slow, “trudging” tempo and parallel harmonies create an almost hypnotic atmosphere. Contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks creates a similar ambience in his minimalist piece ‘Balta ainava’ (White Scenery), whose two simple themes – undulating quavers and chords – suggest the austerity and stillness of a vast frozen landscape where everything is white and the tress are bare of leaves. The composer describes it as “a quiet meditation”. Peter Sculthorpe’s ‘Snow’ from ‘Night Pieces’ also recreates the stillness of a winter landscape through the careful placement of a limited selection of notes. Perhaps the most famous depiction of the cold and barren winter landscape, and the feelings of melancholy it evokes, is in Schubert’s song cycle ‘Winterreise’, which Liszt transcribed for piano solo.
Chopin and Liszt are more concerned with unsettled winter weather in the ‘Winter Wind’ Etude and ‘Chasse Neige’ respectively – works which conjure up visions of fierce winds and whipped-up snow through rapid swirling scales and arpeggios.
Taking refuge from winter winds and swirling snow, both Tchaikovsky and Debussy find warmth beside the fire, while Liszt’s suite ‘Weihnachtsbaum’ (Christmas Tree), which was first performed on Christmas Day in 1881, celebrates the festive season through carols, the excitement of children and the recollections of adults. In Messiaen’s ‘Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus’, which on one level is a meditation on the Christmas story, the movement entitled ‘Noel’ (Christmas) pours forth with joyful ecstasy, complete with chiming bells and exotic, jazzy rhythms.