The seasons have long been an inspiration to composers, especially the arrival of spring which heralds brighter, warmer days. Perhaps that is why Scandinavian composers, emerging from such long, dark winters, have embraced spring so rapturously. There are some obvious choices in my playlist, but I’ve also tried to choose a few lesser known works which should put a spring into your step! 

1Delius: On hearing the first cuckoo in spring

The English have always done pastoral musical pictures well, although composer Elisabeth Lutyens dismissed a lot of it with the withering term “cow-pat music”. Frederick Delius composed On hearing the first cuckoo in spring in 1911, the clarinet taking on the star avian role. It's a perfect depiction of the English woodlands that means so much to me, having grown up in the New Forest.   

2Vivaldi: Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, Violin Concerto in E major, Op.8 no.1, RV 269 "La primavera” (Spring)

What else is there to say about Vivaldi’s quartet of violin concertos The Four Seasons? Has any composer ever packed in so many visual references in such a brief work? There's birdsong, a spring storm, a gruff, barking dog (on viola!) and the drone of the bagpipes as the shepherd dances. I love this recording by Il Giardino Armonico:  

3Grieg: To Spring

Edvard Grieg’s To Spring is from his third book of Lyric Pieces, refreshing in its clarity, like ice melting as the sun returns. Alice Sara Ott plays – and demonstrates her origami skills! 

4Schumann: Symphony no. 1 in B flat major “Spring”

Until his marriage to Clara Wieck, Robert Schumann was mainly known for his songs and piano works. His Spring Symphony was sketched in just four days and bursts with youthful energy.

5Sibelius: Spring Song

Sibelius composed this tone poem in 1894. It has a bittersweet quality, but an optimistic finale, full of hope. 

6Johann Strauss II: Frühlingsstimmen

Strauss’ waltz is full of the joys of Spring, the bubbling second section imitating birdsong. 

7Raff: Symphony No. 8 in A major, “Frühlingsklänge”

The music of Swiss-German composer Joachim Raff doesn’t get performed much today, which is a great shame. He composed eleven symphonies, the final four being depictions of the seasons. The first movement here, Spring’s return, emerges softly, but joyously. 

8Bridge: Enter Spring

These days, Frank Bridge is best known as Benjamin Britten’s teacher, but his symphonic poems are beautifully evocative. Enter Spring is subtitled a “rhapsody” and was partly inspired by his walks on the Sussex Downs. Here, his pupil Britten conducts. 

9Bax: Spring Fire

Arnold Bax’s Spring Fire is far from an English pastoral idyll. It takes its inspiration from Swinburne’s pagan poem Atalanta in Calydon and is full of nymphs, fauns and satyrs, a luscious and lusty romp. The finale sees the dryads, maenads and bassarids “dancing and screaming through the woods, pursued relentlessly by Bacchus and Pan and their hordes of goat-footed and ivy-crowned revellers”. Gosh. 

10Nielsen: Springtime in Fünen

Carl Nielsen’s “lyric humoresque” is a joyous cantata, his final major choral work. The composer was raised on the island of Funen and this paean to spring is exhilarating and uplifting in the extreme.