After his wonderful presentation at our most recent Nature in the Classics concert with the Music Institute of Chicago Academy, we asked Jim Setapan if he would share a few more words about the relationship between nature and the great classical canon. Jim is Director of the Academy and Conductor-in-Residence at the Music Institute of Chicago. Don’t forget, our last Nature in the Classics concert is coming up on Sunday, March 18! For more information, please see our Events listing.
It is clear that love of nature was of paramount interest to many of the great composers. A brief list of some of those for whom a daily communication with nature was a necessity would include Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Sibelius, and Mahler.
The list of works inspired by nature shows that many, many composers drew their inspiration from all matters outdoors. A short group would include:
Vivaldi- The Four Seasons
Respighi – The Birds
Messiaen – many pieces inspired by bird calls
Prokofiev – A Summer Day
Joan Tower – Sequoia
Ferde Grofe – Grand Canyon Suite
Samuel Joners – Palo Duro Canyon Symphony
Frederick Delius – On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Borodin – In the Steppes of Central Asia
Many German Lieder (songs) speak of the beauty of nature
Beethoven – Symphony #6 (Pastorale)
A list of musical pieces inspired specifically by water would include:
Debussy – La Mer (The Sea)
Johann Strauss jr. – Thunder and Lightning Polka
Benjamin Britten – Four Sea Interludes from the Opera “Peter Grimes”
Wagner – Flying Dutchman Overture
Smetana – The Moldau (a river running through Prague)
Handel – The Water Music
Schumann – Symphony #3 (Rheinish)
The inspiration continues today; the Chicago Symphony’s 2012-13 season includes a section called Rivers, with music based on this feature of nature.
Nature informs not only the content of classical compositions, but their form as well. Take for example the Golden Section – a sense of perfect proportion ( a division of a length so that the ration of the smaller part to the larger is the same as that of the larger part to the whole; approximately 0.618) which occurs widely in nature, and also in architecture, the visual arts…and music. Some composers used this perfect sense of proportion of form, pitch, rhythm, and tempo instinctively – Bach, Mozart, Brahms; and others, such as Bela Bartok, used it consciously.
A similar relationship has often been at work in the creation of a musical motive, such as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: its development and growth throughout a piece of music parallels nature’s life cycle.
What a wonderful giftt nature has given us musicians!
Director of the Academy
Music Institute of Chicago