Spring Has Sprung!
A poem my mother taught me when I was a child remains in my mind as the weather warms, joined by music that makes this season beautiful.It was the silliest poem about Spring. She says she learned it as a little girl and she was told it came from Brooklyn, New York but the author was unknown. Turns out there are many versions, but this was the one she remembered:
Spring has sprung, the grass iz riz,
I wonder where da boidies iz?
Da boid iz on da wing! Ain’t that absoid?
I always hoid da wing...wuz on da boid!
I can’t remember where I put my car keys, but this, this is what I remember.
Spring always meant a lot of things when I was little – our winter coats got sent to the cleaners and lighter clothes came down from the attic; vegetable garden seedlings were started in the back room; and The Big Spring Cleaning got underway. Out with the sand-and-salt-stained and in with windows opened wide and hanging the laundry outdoors again on the rotating inverted umbrella-shaped rack. I would dance through the sheets drying in the breeze. I miss that thing.
In the few weeks since “Spring has sprung,” I’ve said the silly poem out loud, planted seedlings on the workbench in my garage, and remembered my favorite classical pieces about spring. Sharing a few here to get you in the “spring zone.”
My all-time favorite is based on Renaissance painter Botticelli’s “La Primavera” (Spring), a beauty I got to see first-hand in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Ottorino Respighi wasn’t creating a piece about the season as much as honoring the allegory painted by Botticelli some 400 years earlier.
Even though he composed it only 94 years ago, Respighi fills it with breezy Renaissance dances as he imagines Botticelli’s depiction of The Three Graces dancing to bird song. This brilliant version is with Geoffrey Simon conducting the Philharmonia of London:
Frederick Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring always makes me think of sitting on your front steps or back deck as a spring sunset begins. Even if your neighborhood doesn’t have cuckoos, this piece sets the mood perfectly. This is a version with Sir Neville Marriner conducting the Academy-of-St.-Martin-in-the-Fields:
I was introduced to the works of American composer and pacifist Ned Rorem when he was commissioned by WCRB to write a “Peace Symphony,” the request of our founder as the station was approaching its 40th birthday. (The piece, Swords and Plowshares, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra a few years later, in 1991.) I started exploring Rorem’s catalog, and one of my favorite pieces of his is this short Bagatelle from “Spring Music,” played here by the Beaux Arts Trio:
French composer Darius Milhaud must have loved spring to write so many wonderful, evocative pieces about the season. Le printemps, Op. 18, is special to me because I was asked to play the piano part for this piece at a college friend’s senior violin recital. I never practiced anything so much because it was going to be his night to shine. Happy to report the practicing paid off, and we’re still friends. Here are pros to play it for you: violinist Frederic Pelassy and pianist Eliane Reyes.
Alexander Glazunov’s Spring, Op.34, is also one of my top choices to hear Spring in music. It’s another gentle take on the season, asking you to imagine hearing birds just before a spring dawn.
And then there’s this one from Johann Strauss, Jr., that also celebrates the season. Frühlingsstimmen, or The Voices of Spring, Op. 410, is an orchestral waltz, with versions that add an optional soprano voice. Here’s Kathleen Battle joining Herbert van Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic:
There are so many wonderful spring pieces to explore. I hope you’ll look for and listen to Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, “Spring,” and Vivaldi’s “Spring,” from The Four Seasons. Then I’m hoping you’ll get “spring fever” and “branch out” to pieces like Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps and Verdi’s “Spring” ballet from his opera The Sicilian Vespers, and pieces by Beach, Copland and Grieg. Let me know which ones put a spring in your step!
CODA: The first time I heard Strauss’s The Voices of Spring was at a playmate’s house. We were about 5 years old and an older sibling was watching “The Three Stooges” on TV. Turns out the Stooges used this piece a few times: