French Cantatas for Winter Winds: Discover Boismortier’s Four Seasons

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The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler's cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).
The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler’s cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).

People frequently declare our time the Social Era. You’ve heard that term before, haven’t you? We won’t find naming winter storms among Nilofer Merchant’s new Rules for the Social Era, but lately our human tendency to personify everything inanimate has been applied in yet another way.

We’re far from the only culture with this tendency to look at the world around us and create characters. Every culture has! If we look back in time, the wind and weather provide good examples. (Pssst! Would you like to add a word to your vocabulary? There’s a term for making characters of wind and weather. Doing this is called physitheism.)

I hope that crazy word didn’t blow you away! It is pretty abstract, and might leave you groping for examples. So what were some of these breezy, gusty epithets, and how far back in history do they go? Read more

The Best Resource for January Garden Tips

a snow-covered scene painted in Hungary with open countryside, low hills, and trees in the distance, all under a fresh blue sky; the artist is József Rippl-Rónai (1861–1927)
Winter, also known as Hills in Somogy, Undated
József Rippl-Rónai (1861–1927)

In the past I’ve mentioned the potential value of discarded holiday greens and–if you’re snow-free–to look out for discarded or unwanted mums. There’s always more and more . . . and more timely seasonal advice to say, so that’s why I wanted to let you know there’s a resource that covers it all. Read more

Are there Furry Creatures that Give You Fury?

Modern painting Leap of Rabbit from 1911 by Amadeu de Sousa Cardoso shows a rabbit leaping in a garden.
Leap of Rabbit (1911)
Amadeu de Sousa Cardoso

“I Have Elephants in MY Garden so What’s YOUR Problem?” One of the best titles for a garden talk I’ve seen comes from Marie Butler, the now-retired coordinator of landscape for the Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk.

You have to admit that however impossible to win your back yard battles may seem, Read more

Sound of the Season: Claude Debussy’s Enchanting Music for Spring

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painting The River Epte by Claude Monet (1885)
The River Epte (1885)
by Claude Monet

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

George Santayana

a portrait of Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet (1884)
portrait of Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet (1884)

As a young adult, when the French pianist-composer Claude Debussy was living in Rome as a laureate of the Rome Prize, he was expected to send works back to Paris indicating his artistic progress. One of them was supposed to be a symphony or a piece of similar scope for orchestra. In fact, he hardly completed anything because he was trying to write music “that is supple and concentrated enough to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of the soul and the whims of reverie.” It also helps to acknowledge he was a meticulous craftsman and re-writer who held himself to an exceedingly high standard and an innovator who wasn’t content to write music the way it had been before.

One of the few things he did complete and send was a piano duet called Spring, and he added that the full score for orchestra, piano, and chorus had been lost Read more

Sound of the Season: Spring (in Catalonia)

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the 1918 impressionist painting Almond Trees in Blossom by Theo van Rysselberghe
Almond Trees in Blossom (1918)
Theo van Rysselberghe

“When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.”

Frederick Buechner,
who is Read more

You’ve Never Heard the Seasons in Sonic Panoramas Like This

In 1799, William Blake wrote “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way . . . But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” In 1816, John Keats wrote that no matter how still a summer day or winter night may be “the poetry of earth is never dead.” If you’re an avid gardener or a lover of the outdoors overall . . . and you’ve never heard Haydn’s large-scale treatment of the seasons for chorus and orchestra . . . isn’t it about time to find out what you’ve been missing?

This is a piece as much of our time as it was of its own. Long before Keats and Blake were alive, and in a culture far different from theirs, Confucius famously observed, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Versions of The Seasons are available in German and English, so you can’t use the language barrier as an excuse! For recommendations, skip to the bottom, or keep on going if you’d like to find out how early The Seasons became famous, when the oratorio crossed the Atlantic, what it was like to write, or why this piece represents the epitome of Enlightenment values.

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most are independent, but some help support this web site!

images of country life during the four seasons from Flemish baroque painter Sebastian Vrancx
Allegories of the Seasons, date unknown
Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)

On June 12, 1799, while working on this oratorio, one of the greatest composers in history wrote to his German publisher about–would you believe?–his concern that he was losing it: Read more