Everyone knows the seminal Four Seasons, in which Vivaldi, thanks to the brilliance of the solo violin, narrated with a unique genius the winter season, its rigor and its harshness. In his oratorio The Seasons, Joseph Haydn also went very far into the meticulous description of winter, yet with a very different instrumental ensemble (soloists, choir, symphony orchestra).
For most composers, winter symbolizes melancholy: it is the season when everything stops and sadness can break out at any moment. Schubert has regularly evoked this season in Lieder, and even devoted a complete cycle to it – Winterreise. In this deeply moving masterpiece, Schubert is at the dawn of his death, and reveals his own anguish and despair.
But composers have not always linked winter to sadness. They wrote humorous choruses from as early as the Baroque period, like Lully's Isis or Purcell's King Arthur, in which the singers imitate the chattering of teeth in cold weather. Similarly, in his German dance K.605, Mozart evokes a sleigh ride in a rather joyful way, with the help of an instrument unusual at least in his work: bells. Finally, for Johann Strauss in Polka Winterlust and Offenbach in the Trip to the Moon's “Grand Ballet of the Snowflakes”, winter is more synonymous with joy and gaiety.
With the romantic and then modern period, composers continued to praise this very special season. Debussy evokes winter in several pieces for piano, and Tchaikovsky devoted an entire symphony, his very first, entitled Winter Dreams.