Classical music for the summer

As the temperatures rise, we take a look at some of the finest summer-flavoured pieces of classical music.

Summertime - George Gershwin

Over the nearly 80 years since it was written, the song Summertime has turned into a classic that has been covered by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Sting. When July and August are at their warmest, there is nothing better than soaking in the blazing sun and capturing the essence of Southern America with this song.

Written by DuBose Heyward and composed by Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess, this is a great song for the summer.

A Song of Summer - Frederick Delius

A Song of Summer was derived from an unpublished 1918 symphonic work. Delius explained the context of this song by saying:

"I want you to imagine we are sitting on the cliffs of heather and looking out over the sea. The sustained chords in the high strings suggest the clear sky and stillness and calm of the scene...You must remember that figure that comes in the violins when the music becomes more animated. I'm introducing it there to suggest the gentle rise and fall of the waves. The flutes suggest a seagull gliding by."

In other words, a perfect summer day!

Summer - Frank Bridge

Frank Bridge composed Summer soon after he came in touch with the works of Frederick Delius. Perhaps this is why the song has the robust pastoral influence of Delius' compositions. By mimicking the harmonic language with modal harmonies and diatonic dissonances of the previous English generation, Bridge created a masterpiece that encapsulated the English pastoral summer.

Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Felix Mendelssohn

Written by Felix Mendelssohn at the age of 17, the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream was called "the greatest marvel of early maturity that the world has ever seen in music" by George Grove. The first British performance of the Overture was conducted by Mendelssohn himself, on 24 June 1829, at the Argyll Rooms in London, at a concert in benefit of the victims of the floods in Silesia.

It is said in his biography that he had scribbled the chords after hearing an evening breeze rustle the leaves in the garden of the family's home that summer.

Midsommarvaka - Hugo Alfven

Midsommarvaka is Alfven's best known piece of music. He wrote it for a large orchestra - a festive work in the favourite rhapsodic form of Romanticism where one theme (character) succeeds another to create a varied musical narrative. The work seems to leap right out of Swedish folk music with the presentation of the theme by a playful clarinet, lightly accompanied by a harp and pizzicato strings. But before we know where we are the leaves are whirled up and the full orchestra takes over - now with a more imitative, Fortspinnung-like character.

Les Nuits D’ete - Hector Berlioz

Hector Berlioz wrote a set of 6 poems that was then used as a song-cycle called Les Nuits D’ete. The writer Annagret Fauser suggests that Berlioz may have been influenced by the preface to a collection of short stories by his friend Joseph Méry, Les nuits de Londres, in which the author writes of summer nights in which he and his friends sat outside until dawn telling stories. In a 1989 study of Berlioz's works, D Kern Holoman suggested that the title of the song cycle is an allusion to Shakespeare, whose works were loved by Berlioz.

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