In the memories of my childhood, winter was often Russian. The snow and leaden sky encircled Rachmaninov’s passion and Tchaikovsky’s painful melancholy. His Slavonic March is an orchestral blizzard, and Symphony No. 1, Winterdreams brings forth an icy azure sky, studded with weary swans.
Later, my winters saw Debussy making himself at home at the piano with some of his ‘easiest’ Preludes to play. Les pas sur la neige are a Claude Monet-style ideal of winter impressionism. You can hear the echoes in Autechre’s electronic gamelans, as well as in Joël Grare’s Savoyard bells.
Winter is the season for looking inwards and Schubert’s Winterreise epitomises this, enthusiastically taken up by the generation of Fauvists, to which Souleymane Diamanka’s gravelly flow in L’Hiver Peul responds.
The months where hope becomes buried in the dying light are nevertheless those of its rebirth. The feast day of Saint Lucy, when winter officially begins, is also, by chance, the moment that the light begins to return and the days get longer. The colours of the Northern Lights radiate from the palette of Kaija Saarihao, who precisely describes the Arctic night through sound.
The cold mornings glitter and the sun climbs higher in the sky every day. Soon will come the crowning of spring. Jean Sibelius’ immense 2nd symphony is an apotheosis (under vodka) of the cold light of February. Before we make it to spring, we’re going to shiver a lot.
A baroque winter is particularly good at rendering the physical pain that extreme cold brings. Think of the seminal Purcell, who was immortalised by Klaus Nomi – not only a sad clown but also the very first countertenor of pop music. And then of course we have Vivaldi, here deconstructed by Max Richter, along with Haydn and Rameau – slightly more sensible perhaps, but no less evocative.