Happy Music to Beat the Winter Blues | WOSU Radio

Happy Music to Beat the Winter Blues

Jan 17, 2017

Every January, when I take down the holiday decorations that adorn my apartment walls, I’m always struck by how abruptly empty my home feels in comparison. A similar feeling comes when I look at my calendar, which seems to shift from endless holiday parties and seasonal social engagements to not much of anything overnight.

For me, this holiday hangover lingers well into the winter months, when the snow loses its magic and turns to slush, and it feels as though the sun is on hiatus. Making plans to get out of the house helps, but when the weather isn’t cooperating, I’m left to home remedies. That’s where music comes in.

A pleasant playlist can make all the difference when it comes to mood and overall happiness. (Take this 2014 study that found music therapy alleviated seasonal affective disorder symptoms in elderly patients, for example.) So I asked our WOSU Classical 101 gurus to share their go-to music for when they need a pick-me-up, and created a Spotify playlist of their recommendations (minus a couple that aren't available on Spotify). Here’s what they had to say:

Cheryl Dring, program director

Palladians' recording An Excess of Pleasure is hard to find these days, except from the record label, but you can hear the whole thing on YouTube. It’s just four players apparently having the time of their lives, playing music you’ve likely never heard before, with violin, recorder, cello and lute, but it’s irresistible. If the first track doesn’t hook you, I’ll be surprised.

Also, Michael Torke’s “Bright Blue Music” always brightens my day from the very first notes. Torke is a synesthete—when he hears music, he sees colors—and he’s written a whole series of pieces he calls Color Music. “Bright Blue Music” immediately brings to mind a crystal-blue sky on what, to me anyway, sounds like a wonderful warm day.

Boyce Lancaster, morning announcer

The final two movements of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are two of my favorites. While most concentrate on that most familiar of openings, I find that when the ominous drumbeat in the third movement rolls into the glorious opening of the finale, I never fail to get chills. It's a huge lift! I recommend the recording by the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä.

Another favorite is “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from The Planets, by Gustav Holst. One writer described it this way: “In ‘Jupiter’ the composer sought to embody the radiant happiness of a person who enjoys life.” What better thought for a dreary Ohio winter day?

The Chicago Symphony with James Levine is a good recording for this.

Jennifer Hambrick, midday announcer

I love countertenor Philippe Jaroussky’s jazzy interpretation of Monteverdi’s madrigal “Ohimè ch’io cado” with early-music ensemble L‘Arpeggiata. The musicians swing this madrigal as though it were a jazz tune, so it’s incredibly fun and freewheeling. There are also some phenomenal improvised cornetto solos, which are truly unbelievable when you consider that the cornetto is a notoriously difficult instrument even to get a decent sound on, much less do all of the noodling around this guy does.

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s performance of the aria “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci on his Verismo Arias recording is nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, almost everything Jonas Kaufmann sings is phenomenal, so there are a lot of options here.

Almost any work by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. This guy had taste, class, and style, and he knew how to write a tune and dress it up in evening wear. He also knew how to bend the rules to his own standards, and in doing so he came up with music that is drop-dead gorgeous, passionate, orderly and just flat-out “getting it.” Vaughan Williams is the man.

John Rittmeyer, afternoon and evening announcer

When my spirits get down this time of year, some of Johann Sebastian Bach’s more extrovert music like Violin Concerto No. 2 in E always lifts my mood. From the jaunty opening to the lively finale, it’s hard to keep feeling low listening to this wonderful music.

If I need more Bach, the Brandenburg Concertos are guaranteed to fill the bill.

Christopher Purdy, host of Classical 101 by Request and Musica Sacra (with the caveat that he enjoys gray days)

The first 10 minutes of the second act of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss is pure energy, excitement and anticipation.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in a minor is not an especially happy piece, but it is melodious and beautiful, as well as just a tad intense enough to keep one’s mind off of anything else.

“Let the Bright Seraphim” from Handel’s Samson, sung by Joan Sutherland: “Their loud, uplifted angel trumpets blow.” Is there a better line in any vocal music?