Frances Metcalfe first learnt to read music at the age of four and is a retired peripatetic music teacher specialising in the violin.
Whether the composer is musically recreating a sunny day’s mountain climb, attempting to emulate the breaking of clouds, or scoring the sway of grass as the dew drops evaporate, classical music has long been inspired by the morning. Here are seven incredible compositions inspired by the morning.
7 Compositions Inspired by Morning
- Debussy. Images: Le Matin d'un Jour de Fête
- Grieg. Morning Mood from Peer Gynt
- Ravel. Daphnis and Chloé: Daybreak
- Roussel. Petite Suite For Orchestra: Aubade
- Delius. Florida Suite: Daybreak
- Elgar. Chanson de Matin
- Haydn. Symphony 6 "Le Matin"
1. Debussy. Images: Le Matin d'un Jour de Fête
Debussy's first set of Images were for two solo pianos. He had originally intended his second set to be for the same instruments. Clearly Debussy soon revised his opinion and decided the second set would better served orchestrated, and this is the version with which we are familiar.
Images is divided into three sections: Gigues, Iberia and Rondes des Printemps, of which Iberia is the most well known. The last section of Iberia is Le Matin d'un Jour de Fête and features a band of guitars.
It's very upbeat, the Spanish on a happy day out. Matins bells ring out, pizzicato strings mimic the guitars, and the folk tunes of the common people jolly the event along. The brass have an exceptionally cheerful time and round off the festival with a rousing glissandi flourish.
2. Grieg. Morning Mood from Peer Gynt
If there were ever a melody to wake up to, Grieg's Morning Mood from the incidental music to Ibsen's play Peer Gynt ticks all the boxes.
The gentle flute wafts over you, an unhurried awakening before the music stretches out in a large deep breath. Fresh as a daisy, the curtains open to reveal a calm dawn, the nip in the air promising to give way to a sunny northern morning.
Grieg was far more successful at writing miniatures than full scale pieces and Peer Gynt remains one of his most popular works. Nearly everyone will recognise it - for a start it's been used for adverts, so even if you can't put a name to it, you'll know it all the same. And as soon as that flute solo make its floaty entrance, you're bound to be infused with the contentment of looking forward to the day.
3. Ravel. Daphnis and Chloé: Daybreak
Ravel wrote the music for the Daphnis and Chloé for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in 1909. It relates a love story between a goatherd and shepherdess woven through with help from nymphs and the god Pan. When the Daybreak scene opens, Daphnis is sleeping in a grotto by a brook, his beloved Chloé having been captured by brigands.
As Daphnis and the natural world awakens, the glories of the dawn chorus fill the air. Birds call, tweet and flutter announcing their chattering presence. The bubbling flute part is one of the thrills of the classical repertoire, representing Daphnis resting by a stream before he comes to.
The music climbs on the thermals of rapture and expands into the shimmering haze of the rising sun. An ecstasy of sonorities to and feel the glow of the sun on your face.
I think of the female chorus as representative of Mother Earth, gathering up Daphnis in her warm, nurturing embrace, binding the individual instrumental players together.
And however sumptuous and cherishing the music is, Ravel ensures you don't lose sight of the danger Chloé is in by hints of a bitter taste on the tongue, the melody bending, an unexpectedly slightly sour sauce to cut through too rich a dish.
It is, quite simply, a banquet for orchestra - a feast for the listener - you will be satiated after you have partaken at Ravel's groaning table of opulent dishes.
4. Roussel. Petite Suite For Orchestra: Aubade
Traditionally the aubade was a troubadour song performed in the morning by a man standing under his beloved's bedroom window while she lay asleep. Often he would accompany himself on the guitar or mandolin as he woke, presumably the woman of his dreams, at the crack of dawn.
The concept developed to encompass lovers taking their leave at sunrise and as is often the case with composers, they take the idea of a type of song or perhaps a dance, and make it their own.1
Don't expect the sweetness of Grieg here, or the great widening of arms spreading away stiff muscles of Daphnis and Chloë. You'd even be forgiven for not slotting this offering from Roussel into the category of an aubade - the music bounds on to the stage of life with a huge striding gait. Then you realise that this is a character who leaps out of bed - the right side of it at that - already wide awake and bushy tailed.
This is no pastoral scene. Amid the morning rush hour, Roussel might almost doff his hat at Gershwin accompanying his American in a bustling Paris making his jaunty way across the crowded streets - they speak a related dialect and partake in the same joys of city living.
Check this Roussel out. It's not quite as might you expect as a wake up call but it is a great boost to the morning and if I ever needed a determined prod to prise me out of bed, I can't think of a better alarm.
5. Delius. Florida Suite: Daybreak
When Delius was in his early twenties he spent time on an orange plantation in Florida. Rather than spend his days managing fruit trees, Delius was determined to follow a musical career and after persuading his father commerce was not his forte, took himself off to Leipzig Conservatory to study composition.2
Calling on his memories in the United States, the Florida Suite quickly made its appearance. Daybreak opens with a long quiet chord before a plaintive oboe enters the scene, almost as if it's coming out of hiding and looking around to see if it's safe to come out.
A bolder flute moving swallow-like through the stillness takes over, then increasingly bird calls are fluttering in the skies underpinned by a lush meadow of sound from the strings.
The second half of the work is familiar - he reused it in his opera Koanga for a wedding dance he named La Calinda. Idiomatically it's very French, in the style of ballet music of the sort common in French operas at the time.
For a very early work when Delius was just learning his craft, this is a beautifully accomplished movement, a truly rounded pastoral melody from the strings, and more than reminiscent of Grieg's Peer Gynt suite written some years earlier and premiered in 1876.
6. Elgar. Chanson de Matin
There are two versions of Chanson de Matin, the first for violin and piano from 1899, and later redrafted for small orchestra. It's designed to be a pair with Chanson de Nuit, written two years earlier and is a short easy listening piece - around four minutes or so - which has been in the popular light category for decades.3
It is perfectly charming, the very smooth opening giving way to a more dramatic middle section, as if a few dark clouds have drifted into view, but they soon pass and the calm aspect of the first melody resumes.
Edward Elgar 1857-1934
7. Haydn. Symphony 6 "Le Matin"
When Haydn was employed at the Esterházy palace in Vienna, he worked in fabulous surroundings. The space in which concerts were performed boasted an enchantingly painted ceiling.
Three of those pictures were of morning, midday and night. Taking inspiration from them and with a nod to his employer, Prince Paul Esterházy, Haydn wrote three symphonies, the first with the title now usually known as Le Matin, or 'The Morning'. The other two naturally are known as Le Midi and Le Soir.
Haydn had the good fortune to write for an exceptional calibre of players at the court and Le Matin features solos for the principal instrumentalists of the orchestra.4 Even the double bass has the spotlight turned on him.
During his compositional life Haydn experimented with the genre of the symphony and he is generally considered as consolidating the form into the traditional format we are familiar with today. It was developed out of the earlier concerto grosso where ensembles could show off talents of all members of the orchestra.
Le Matin is the sixth of his symphonies. He obviously loved writing them as he produced a staggering 104 of them and was a role model for Mozart and Beethoven. In the twentieth century, Prokoviev wrote his playful Classical Symphony in the style of Haydn but with modern harmonic twists.
1 Wikipedia France
2 Amazon France
4 Charles Hazelwood BBC
© 2018 Frances Metcalfe
Frances Metcalfe on April 25, 2018:
Thanks Barbara for spending the time looking at my article, knowing how busy you are. There's nothing like the right piece of music for igniting the get up and go in the morning!
Barbara Walton from France on April 24, 2018:
Another informative and enjoyable music article. I love the theme of morning and daybreak.
Frances Metcalfe (author) from The Limousin, France on April 24, 2018:
Thank you Flouish. I'm always looking at what inspires a composer to put pen to paper and it's often the pastoral scenes that come to the fore as with a landscape in the morning.
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 23, 2018:
Beautifully written with such enthusiasm and passion for the subject. I loved the detail and learned a lot.
Frances Metcalfe on April 23, 2018:
Thank you so much for your kind comments, Dora. I learnt quite a bit myself when researching for the article, but then research is one of my passions! You never stop learning do you, even when it's a specialist subject?
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 22, 2018:
Thanks for sharing your appreciation of these pieces and the interesting bits of information on the composers. Unique and well done!
Frances Metcalfe (author) from The Limousin, France on April 22, 2018:
Thank you Chitrangada. I think my favourite is the Aubade from Petite Suite for Orchestra by Roussel, it's so perky. I'm so glad you liked the videos and hopefully introduced you to some pieces you may not know.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 22, 2018:
Great and well presented article!
This is very informative hub, as I came to know a lot about these great artists and their wonderful work. Thanks for the education. I really enjoyed going through the details, and the wonderful videos.
Thanks for sharing!