Classical Party: A Summer Night To Remember

from WGUC-FM

Summer may seem like the shortest of seasons, but at least the evenings are long and warm. As we wend our way into August, when the sticky air makes it easy to forget how little time remains until fall, here are five pieces by classical composers who embraced summer nights. Here's hoping the music signifies both summertime and celebration the next time you spend a hot night entertaining guests.

woman in headphones at night i i
iStockphoto.com
woman in headphones at night
iStockphoto.com

For more entries in this summer's weekly It's Time to Party: Summer Songs series, click here.

Classical Party: A Summer Night To Remember

mendelssohn art

Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream

  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Album: Shakespeare's Music: Classic and Popular Music Inspired by the Plays
  • Song: Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream

Celebrating the longest day of the year is one of those ancient pagan rituals that was turned into a Christian holiday when June 24 became the Feast of St. John the Baptist. The eve of that feast is a night for lovers, and for magic. Shakespeare put both into his comedy A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Felix Mendelssohn's "Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream" includes scurrying fairies, royal trumpets and Bottom the Weaver in his donkey's head, braying, "Hee haw, hee haw!" The summer of 2009 may have careened all the way into August, but it's not too late to revel in the simple pleasures of summer's longest stretches of daylight.

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  • "Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream"
  • Album: Shakespeare's Music: Classic and Popular Music Inspired by the Plays
  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Label: Telarc
  • Released: 2009
 
Le Sacre du Printemps art

St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain

  • Artist: Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Album: Le Sacre du Printemps [Hybrid SACD]
  • Song: St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (Ivanova noch' na Lisoy gore), symphonic poem for orchestra

The aforementioned midsummer night is cause for all kinds of revelry -- some Shakespearean, some Mussorgskian. The full title of A Night on Bald Mountain is actually St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain, because it was inspired by a witches' sabbath in Gogol's story St. John's Eve. Shortly after the piece premiered, a critic called it "an orgy of ugliness," which just proves that Mussorgsky got it exactly right.

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  • "St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain (Ivanova noch' na Lisoy gore), symphonic poem for orchestra"
  • Album: Le Sacre du Printemps [Hybrid SACD]
  • Artist: Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 2006
 
Swedish Orchestral Favourites art

Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, for orchestra ("Midsommarvaka"), Op. 19

  • Artist: Various
  • Album: Swedish Orchestral Favourites
  • Song: Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, for orchestra ("Midsommarvaka"), Op. 19

Different countries have different ways of celebrating summer. Many of them involve bonfires -- which is kind of strange, given that this is the time of year when days are at their longest, and a lot of the countries that celebrate the season are so far north that the sun doesn't even set for long stretches.

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  • "Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, for orchestra ("Midsommarvaka"), Op. 19"
  • Album: Swedish Orchestral Favourites
  • Artist: Various
  • Label: Naxos
  • Released: 1995
 
Mozart art

Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Serenade): Allegro

  • Artist: Vienna Chamber Orchestra / Philippe Entremont
  • Album: Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  • Song: Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Serenade): Allegro

Serenades were originally performed outdoors in the evening -- presumably a summer evening, because neither audience nor musicians would be terribly enthusiastic about standing around outside in the cold. Most of Mozart's serenades were written for special events like birthdays and graduations, but "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" (A Little Night Music), his finest serenade, remains a great mystery. There's no record of its first performance, or for whom Mozart might have written it.

 
Prokofiev: Cinderella art

Summer Night, suite for orchestra, Op. 123

  • Artist: Mikhail Pletnev
  • Album: Prokofiev: Cinderella
  • Song: Summer Night, suite for orchestra, Op. 123

Sergei Prokofiev was looking for a little relief from Soviet ideology when he turned Richard Sheridan's play Betrothal in a Monastery into an opera (although Prokofiev did throw a bone to the authorities by including a scene full of tipsy monks). The composer turned some of the music from the opera into a suite titled "Summer Night." Since this CD also contains Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella, there's another great bit of nocturnal music on it: "Midnight," with the clock striking 12.

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  • "Summer Night, suite for orchestra, Op. 123"
  • Album: Prokofiev: Cinderella
  • Artist: Mikhail Pletnev
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 1995
 

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Shakespeare's Music: Classic and Popular Music Inspired by the Plays

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  • Album: Shakespeare's Music: Classic and Popular Music Inspired by the Plays
  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Label: Telarc
 

Le Sacre du Printemps [Hybrid SACD]

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  • Album: Le Sacre du Printemps [Hybrid SACD]
  • Artist: Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 2006
 

Swedish Orchestral Favourites

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  • Album: Swedish Orchestral Favourites
  • Artist: Various
  • Label: Naxos
  • Released: 1995
 

Prokofiev: Cinderella

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  • Album: Prokofiev: Cinderella
  • Artist: Mikhail Pletnev
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • Released: 1995
 

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