20 greatest pieces of classical music inspired by nature and gardens

19 June 2024, 15:58

20 greatest pieces of classical music inspired by nature
20 greatest pieces of classical music inspired by nature. Picture: Alamy
Classic FM

By Classic FM

Some of the most enduring tunes in classical music were inspired by the great outdoors. Let’s explore the very best...

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Classical music and the great outdoors go hand in glove. Great composers from Beethoven to Vaughan Williams have let their musical imaginations run wild after time spent in the glorious countryside, producing some of today’s favourite concert works.

To celebrate this great archive of music, Alan Titchmarsh, the nation’s favourite gardener, chose his Top 20 Gardening Classics, with every piece connected to gardening and nature. Explore the full list below.

  1. Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on Greensleeves

    Inspired by a popular Tudor melody, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia has taken on a life of its own. Initially composed for the third act of his Shakespeare-inspired opera Sir John in Love, it perfectly encapsulates the beauty of England in music.

    Ralph Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves

  2. Rachmaninov – Lilacs (12 Romances)

    ‘Lilacs’, a dreamlike romance, is a setting of a poem by 18th-century Russian poet Ekaterina Beketova, which describes bunches of lilac flowers as “where happiness lives”. Rachmaninov wrote it in 1902 to help pay for his honeymoon with wife Nathalie Satina.

    Read more: 13 pieces of classical music inspired by birdsong

    Rachmaninoff - Lilacs - Сирень - Oksana Lepska

  3. Johann Strauss II – Roses from the South

    Strauss Jr’s waltz melody ‘Rosen aus dem Süden’, composed in 1880, remains a popular favourite today and nearly always features in the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert. One of his most enduring waltzes, it was arranged by the composer from themes taken from his operetta, The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief.

    J. Strauss II: Rosen aus dem Süden, Op. 388

  4. Shostakovich – In the Garden (Hamlet Suite)

    Shostakovich’s music for the 1964 film version of Hamlet was distilled by the composer into a lovely little suite – and one of the highlights has us accompany the star-crossed lovers… ‘In The Garden’.

    Read more: Love listening to classical music in the garden? You’re not alone...

    Shostakovich: Hamlet: In the Garden (Music from the Film)

  5. Trad. – Flowers in Spring

    Often performed for Chinese New Year, this is a beautiful piece of traditional Chinese music that marries Chinese musical patterns with soaring, symphonic sounds.

  6. Bizet – La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (The Flower Song)

    As she is being arrested, Carmen flirts with Don José, throws him a flower and convinces him to free her. He is thrown behind bars for two months, all the while, keeping the flower Carmen had thrown him – ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’. German tenor Jonas Kaufmann does it wonderfully, in the second act of Bizet’s much-loved opera, Carmen.

    Carmen – The Flower Song (Jonas Kaufmann, The Royal Opera)

  7. François-André Philidor – The Gardener and His Lord

    Philidor, a composer in 18th-century France, was the leading chess player of his time and a popular stage composer, who wrote a one-act comic opera called Le jardinier et son seigneur. The overture, with plenty of drama and Italian influences, is a sparkling, stately work.

  8. Trad. – The Last Rose of Summer

    A beautiful piece composed and performed by Barry Douglas, The Last Rose of Summer is based on a poem by the Irish poet Thomas Moore that begins ‘Tis the last rose of summer, Left blooming alone; all her lovely companions are faded and gone.

    The Last Rose of Summer

  9. Albert Ketèlbey – In a Monastery Garden

    Albert Ketèlbey was an English conductor of light music, who retired to the Isle of Wight – one of Alan’s favourite places in the world! “To this day, I think he deserves far more fame than he has,” Alan added.

    Ketèlbey: In A Monastery Garden

  10. Glazunov – The Seasons

    In Glazunov’s allegorical ballet, the main characters throughout represent ‘Winter’ and ‘Ice’, or the ‘Spirit of the Corn’, in his musical depiction of the Seasons.

    Glazunov: The Seasons, Op.67 - 2. Spring

  11. Dvořák – Silent Woods

    Dvořák’s dreamy and lyrical ‘Silent Woods’ is originally part of a piano cycle called From the Bohemian Forest. “If you’re talking about getting out into nature, pieces don’t come much more suited than this,” Alan said.

    Dvořák: From the Bohemian Forest, Op. 68, B. 133 - V. Silent Woods (Arr. Niefind & Ribke For...

  12. Rimsky-Korsakov – Flight of the Bumblebee

    Do you hear a buzzing? The now-viral speed test for classical musicians everywhere began as an orchestral interlude in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, where Prince Gvidon is transformed into a bee so that he can fly to visit his father.

    Trombonist plays ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on a watering can

  13. Florence Price – Dance of the Cotton Blossoms

    A sprightly, lyrical melody floats above the thick texture underneath, like cotton blossoms in the air on a breezy summer day, in this wonderful piano solo with ragtime influences.

    Read more: Florence Price was the first Black woman to have her work premiered by a US orchestra

  14. Tchaikovsky – ‘Rose’ Adagio (Sleeping Beauty)

    The most famous moment in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, this fiendishly difficult dance for Princess Aurora sees her meet four suitors who dance with her and support her delicately calculated balances.

    The Sleeping Beauty – Rose Adage (Marianela Nuñez, The Royal Ballet)

  15. Delius – In a Summer Garden

    A work by English composer Delius, to utterly transport you to a summer’s day. The published score contained a beautiful quote from Rossetti, which says: “All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love. To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang”.

    Delius: In a Summer Garden ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Sir Andrew Davis

  16. Paul Reade – The Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite

    Now one of the best-loved works for clarinet, Paul Reade’s The Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite was the winner of the 1991 Ivor Novello Award for Best TV Theme. Reade was an English musician who wrote plenty of music for television, and also worked as a repetiteur at the English National Opera.

    Paul Reade - Suite from "The Victorian Kitchen Garden" | Julianne Scott & Nora Bumanis

  17. Delibes – The Flower Duet

    “It’s a piece that’ll either make you think of a moving moment in the opera Lakmé, or heading to the airport,” Alan quipped. Delibes’ stunning ‘Flower Duet’, a beautiful showcase for soprano and mezzo, was famously used in a British Airways advert.

    Nadine Sierra & Pretty Yende - Delibes: Lakmé / Flower Duet

  18. Beethoven – Symphony No.6 ‘Pastoral’

    Beethoven’s deep love of the countryside and his connection to nature inspired a musical tribute to the great outdoors, and one of the most popular concert works of today – his ‘Pastoral’ Symphony. The opening movement, Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arrival in the Countryside, is particularly joyful.

    Beethoven: 6. Sinfonie (»Pastorale«) ∙ hr-Sinfonieorchester ∙ Andrés Orozco-Estrada

  19. Ronald Binge – The Watermill

    The Watermill feels instantly nostalgic, the undulating orchestral accompaniment evoking the gentle flow of water while a solo oboe paints an evocative view of a British landscape.

    Ronald Binge : The Watermill. Paintings.

  20. Percy Grainger – Country Gardens

    ‘Country Gardens’ began as an old English folk tune that dates back as far as 1728, but it was the Australian composer Percy Grainger who popularised it thanks to an orchestration that he came up with in 1918. It always evokes a beautiful spring day…

    GRAINGER Country Gardens - "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band