“Yes, yes, let’s talk about the weather.”
– Chorus, Act I, No. 9, The Pirates of Penzance, or, the Slave of Duty
It has been an unusually rainy summer here in the Mid-Atlantic (and spring, for that matter)! Let’s get through this deluge with a variety of music about rain from the Music Division’s collections.
In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II, “Let’s start at the very beginning” with music from our childhood. Many Americans grow up singing folk songs like “Rain, rain, go away” and “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring.” Did you know that you can explore children’s songs in the Music Division? Topical for this time of year is Edna Everett’s “Summer Showers” in her 1919 collection Kindergarten and Primary Songs, Vol. II, which she dedicated to the “Children of the Wentworth Public School, Chicago.”
One of the first warning signs that rain is coming is a gray sky. An intoxicating piece is Claude Debussy’s 1899 work for orchestra, Nocturnes. The first of the three movements is “Nuages” (“Clouds”). The orchestration floats like clouds while the chromaticism and dark orchestral colors add an ominous feeling. Ask for the 1905 first edition of the orchestral score in the Performing Arts Reading Room!
Once the clouds roll in, the wind picks up. Italian composer and flutist Giulio Briccialdi (1818-1881) gets the whirls and swirls quite right in Wind Amongst the Trees (Il Vento, Op. 112) for flute and piano. You’ll feel and see the trees blowing in this 1910 Victor recording of Australian flutist John Lemmoné with pianist Maurice Lafarge. Don’t be fooled by the reprieve of the middle section – the wind will kick up again in full force, especially in the coda! The Dayton C. Miller Collection contains a pristine 1912 edition of this piece.
Storms also inspired Ludwig van Beethoven. The fourth movement of his sixth symphony in F major, the “Pastoral,” contains every part of the storm, from stinging raindrops in ascending violin scales, to bursts of thunder in the timpani, and screeching wind gusts in the piccolo’s only appearance in the entire symphony. Each movement has a name, and the fourth movement’s is “Thunder storm.” The symphony premiered on 22 December 1808 and the Music Division’s first edition dates to 1826.
The jazz standard “Stormy Weather” by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler is also perfect for when storms get serious. Ethel Waters premiered the song with Duke Ellington in the revue The Cotton Club Parade 1933 in Harlem. Can’t get enough of this song? Check out the 1943 musical film Stormy Weather directed by Andrew L. Stone. Lena Horne sings the title track and Katherine Dunham and Her Troupe dance the Stormy Weather Ballet. The Library of Congress added Stormy Weather to the National Film Registry in 2001.
Does rain interrupt your plans? Composer Eddie Leonard laments how rain makes its way into summer activities in his catchy tune “Oh! Didn’t it Rain!” If you’d rather wallow, consider Amy Beach’s “The Rainy Day” – an 1883 setting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem – and “Il pleure dans mon coeur” (“It rains in my heart”) from Debussy’s song cycle Ariettes oubliées (Forgotten Songs) in its original song cycle form or arranged for violin and piano.
Maybe, rain doesn’t bother you but it makes you feel pensive. Music for you is Frédéric Chopin’s “Raindrop” Prelude, Op. 28 no. 15 in D-flat major. In the outer sections, the melody in the right hand is plaintively tuneful while the left hand steadily interjects a raindrop rhythm. The middle section explodes in volume as the rain becomes heavier. The coda dies down to a distant drizzle.
Do you love the rain? Walk through a park or garden while listening to Debussy’s “Jardins sous la Pluie” (“Gardens in the Rain”) from his piano work Estampes (Prints). Come see the 1903 first edition!
If you don’t like complaints about your favorite weather, “Rain” by The Beatles may be just your “Ticket to Ride” with the refrain, “Rain, I don’t mind / Shine, the weather’s fine.” The song was released as the B-side to the single “Paperback Writer” in 1966 between the albums Rubber Soul and Revolver. The Music Division holds the lead sheet deposited for copyright in 1966, call number M1741.2.M.
Sometimes, rain is the best reason to stay indoors. Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi’s set of four violin concertos, The Four Seasons, includes sonnets for each concerto. The sonnet lines have corresponding letters in the score to let players know what the music illustrates. Concerto in F minor, Op. 8, “Winter,” has two lines that correspond to the middle Largo movement in E-flat major:
|Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento
|Before the fire to pass peaceful
Contented days while the rain outside pours down
The Metropolitan Museum of Art recommends that you consider this movement alongside the oil painting Interior with Card Players by Pierre Louis Dumesnil the Younger.
Did the rain finally stop? The thunderous percussion and gusts of descending chromatic scales in Jack Nelson’s “After the Storm” could be cathartic. Or, stroll to a light foxtrot, “After the Rain,” with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. You can also celebrate the rain’s end with Ella Fitzgerald. The Ella Fitzgerald Collection contains arrangements composed for her, including “After the Rain,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Stormy Weather.”
No matter how rainy this summer gets, remember to “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella” and keep “Singin’ in the Rain!”