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COLUMN: Beyond ‘The Nutcracker’: classical music pieces for winter playlists

<p>Sheet music is distributed before a choir practice on July 27, 2016, at the First Congregational Church in Minneapolis.</p>

Sheet music is distributed before a choir practice on July 27, 2016, at the First Congregational Church in Minneapolis.

We tend to think of well-known staples such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker,” “Winter” from Vivaldi’s violin concerto “The Four Seasons” or even just choir settings of old carols when listening to classical music in winter. 

Switch things up this season with some lesser-known pieces.

Claude Debussy’s “IV. The Snow Is Dancing” from “The Children’s Corner”

French composer Debussy’s beloved collection of piano pieces includes “The Snow Is Dancing,” which vividly paints a swirling, delicate atmosphere on the piano.

Frederic Chopin’s Etude, Op. 25, No. 11 “Winter Wind”

Composer Chopin wrote two sets, or “opuses,” of piano etudes, or studies. All of them are infamously difficult for pianists, representing the pinnacle of virtuosic and musical achievement. His Opus 25 set contains this particularly stormy one, nicknamed “Winter Wind.” Don’t let the tranquil opening fool you — what follows is a breathless tempest of pianistic fireworks.

Want the playlist? Check it out here

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “December” from “The Seasons”

Although Tchaikovsky titled this set of pieces for piano “The Seasons,” they are actually named after the months. “December” captures all the charm of a peaceful snow-frosted landscape — you can almost imagine people skating on a pond, cheerful children tobogganing down a village hill or people circling around a warm fireplace to the lilting melodies of this work.

Franz Schubert’s “Frühlingstraum” (“Dream of Spring”) from “Winterreise” (“Winter’s Journey”)

Schubert was one of the most prolific art song composers who ever lived, and “Winterreise” remains one of his most studied masterpieces. A lengthy song cycle follows the journey of an unnamed heartbroken protagonist into the snowy wilderness. It also contains this more cheerful song reminiscing about spring. 

Florence Price’s “Song for Snow”

Price, a gifted and influential pianist and composer from the early 1900s, wrote this beautiful work for choir and piano. You can almost hear the sleigh bells softly in the piano part and the choir section has all the warmth and charm of a carol.

Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto”

The Baroque composer Corelli was famous for his orchestral works, and this is one of his most cherished ones. Written specifically for the holidays, it is an energetic work full of contrasts and colors. It perfectly captures the whirlwind shimmering of the holidays.

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George Frideric Handel’s “Oh Lovely Peace” from “Judas Maccabaeus” 

Handel, the same composer who wrote the “Hallelujah” chorus in his oratorio “The Messiah,” also wrote an oratorio about the hero at the center of the first Hanukkah story, Judas Maccabaeus. Within this grand and lengthy work, you can find this beautiful lyrical duet that perfectly captures the elegance and charm of Baroque music.

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