Let It Snow

Today’s the first really hot day we’ve had here in Boston this year—projected high of 91º F, a record for the day. For you all in the South and Southwest who are thinking to yourself 91? That’s not even close to hot, I confess: I’m a cold weather person, and once it gets above 75, I start to wilt. (I was telling my dentist this yesterday, and he theorized that I was an Eskimo orphan and my parents never told me.)

Anyway, I started thinking about good records to put on to take one’s mind off of the heat, and I realized: I think of those in two categories. There’s naturally cold music that, to me, conjures the illusion of arctic wastelands or snow-covered bare trees or iced-over rivers. Here’s a few—some are obvious, some not.

  • Vaughan Williams: Symphony no. 7, Sinfonia antartica
  • Sibelius: Symphony no. 5
  • Shostakovich: Symphony no. 14
  • Feldman: Piano and String Quartet
  • Grieg songs
  • David Bowie: Low
  • Scelsi: I presagi

  • My lovely wife says, for her, the orchestral versions of Strauss’s “Ruhe, meine Seele” and “Allerseelen,” along with Wolf lieder in minor keys, produce a nice chill.

    But then, there’s an entirely separate category of music that is like air-conditioning—a sleek, technological cool that’s self-contained and unfailingly comfortable.

  • Gershwin: concert works
  • Debussy: Nocturnes
  • Webern: Concerto, op. 9
  • Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
  • Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Punch the Clock
  • Adams: Nixon in China, act 3
  • Stravinsky: Movements

  • I’m a child of American excess: Concerto in F and “So What” it is. It’s a long weekend: any other suggestions? (Particularly on the pop side—I had to think to come up with those two examples.)


    1. Ok, it’s kind of obvious, but “Der Leiermann from “Winterreise” is about as chilling as it gets. Not very uplifting, though. Actually, a lot of late Schubert has that frozen-in-time effect, certainly the slow movements of the last piano sonata and the cello quintet. By association with “32 Short Films about Glenn Gould” and “Love and Death,” I might also nominate the Goldberg aria and Lt. Kije.

    2. If you’re looking for “a sleek, technological cool that’s self-contained and unfailingly comfortable” in the pop realm, I’d highly recommend Imogen Heap’s album <>Speak For Yourself.<> To me, there something about both her voice and the specific production values of her electronica backup that is downright icy. It’s also danceable, occasionally cutesy, somewhat retro, delightfully catchy, and lush with layers… but something about it feels very cool and sleek to me.Another, perhaps more obvious, suggestion is Bjork’s <>Vespertine<> album, full of Zeena Parkins’ chilly electric harp, a choir of Icelandic women, and the somewhat distant, chilly beats of DJ Matthew Herbert.

    Leave a Reply