Valentine’s Day can be so many different things: that first serious date with a new love, a romantic evening with a longstanding partner, a fun night with friends, a reflective evening by oneself. It can be exciting; it can be nostalgic; it can be painful. The challenge of coming up with a playlist for the holiday is that some of you might want background music for your romantic dinner while others might want something to listen to intently alone. But that challenge is something WETA Classical takes on every day of the year, so we have asked our hosts to come up with a favorite piece of music for the day when love is on our minds.

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James Jacobs

James Jacobs

Machaut: Rondeau - Rose liz

I am beginning the playlist with its oldest selection, by the remarkable 14th century poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut. His observations about love and portrayal of complex emotions are as beautiful, nuanced and deeply human as the arias of Mozart, the lieder of Schubert, or the songs of Joni Mitchell. His Le remède de fortune is a cycle of poems and songs about a shy and anxious young man’s attempt at expressing his feelings to the object of his affections, which I highly recommend as a starting place for those who want to explore his work further. But for Valentine’s Day we are looking for more straightforward expressions of love, and few are as eloquent as this Rondeau that, like the holiday itself, associates budding romance with the first signs of Spring:

Rose, lily, spring, verdure.
Flower, balm and most sweet perfume.
Beauty, you surpass in sweetness.
And all the good gifts of Nature
You have, for which I adore you.

Brahms: Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in a minor, op. 114: II. Adagio

Brahms – like his musical hero Beethoven – never enjoyed a sustained romantic relationship. His only engagement, to his “last love” Agathe von Siebold when he was 26, was soon broken off, and his lifelong deeply loving relationship with Clara Schumann remained Platonic. But in the interplay between the cello and clarinet in this Adagio, it’s tempting to speculate that one can hear a sonic portrait of the ideal romantic union he never got to have.

Linda Carducci

Linda Carducci

Verdi: Otello, Act I: Già nella notte densa (Duet)

Opera is full of romance, but my Valentine favorite is the duet between Otello and his wife, Desdemona, in Verdi’s Otello, one of his three operatic settings of Shakespeare. The general Otello has just returned home from victorious battle amid city celebrations. As evening falls and quiet settles in, Otello and Desdemona share a private moment to express their deep love for each other in the stirring duet, “Già nella notte densa s'estingue ogni clamor” ("Now in the dark night all noise is silenced".) Overcome with passion, Otello declares, “Let Death come now, that in the ecstasy of this embrace, I will meet my hour of hours”. The sentiment is particularly poignant in light of the suspicion and jealousy that will unravel toward a tragic end for the lovers. But for this moment, time stands still by Verdi’s tender treatment of mature rapture, sensitively supported by ethereal woodwinds and harp. 

Bill Bukowski

Bill Bukowski

Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

My Valentine’s Day selection is a truly charming work - although “charming” might not be the first adjective that springs to mind when considering the music of Richard Wagner. This was a tender birthday gift to his bride Cosima, first heard on Christmas morning in 1870 when the composer had assembled 15 musicians on the staircase leading to her bedroom. We’ll let Cosima pick up the narrative:  

When I woke up I heard a sound, it grew even louder, I could no longer imagine myself in a dream; music was sounding, and what music! After it had died away, R. came in to me and put into my hands the score of his “Symphonic Birthday Greeting.” I was in tears, but so, too, was the whole household…  

The Siegfried Idyll, filled with intimate musical allusions to their love and life together, is one of music’s greatest romantic gestures.   

Who wouldn’t love a Valentine like that?  

Nicole Lacroix

Nicole Lacroix

Monteverdi: L'incoronazione di Poppea, Act III: Pur ti miro, Pur ti godo (Duet)

My Valentine’s Day selection is the final duet between Nero and Poppea, Pur ti miro, from Monteverdi’s last opera, L’Incoronazione di Poppea. The lyrics are over the top romantic:   

I adore you, I embrace you,  

I desire you, I enchain you, etc.  

The two soprano voices (or castrato and soprano in the original) meld in harmonious and sometimes dissonant ways. Even though we know Nero is evil, we can’t help being seduced by the sensuous and sinister beauty of this duet.    

I would listen with a glass of Venetian Prosecco and then move on to Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique accompanied by a nice Bordeaux like the one in L’Elisir d’amore that doubles as a love potion. (Don’t get me started on romantic drinking songs like Libiamo ne’lieti calici from La Traviata.)

John Banther

John Banther

Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Suite no. 2

I remember when I heard Ravel's ballet Daphnis and Chloe for the first time in what was maybe the most idyllic place to hear it, alone in an audience-less morning rehearsal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at their summer home in Lenox, Massachusetts. It was magic.   

The second suite Ravel made from this ballet gets right to the reunited lovers. It opens with one of the most beautiful depictions of a sunrise in music. Daphnis is awakened in the early pastoral light and mourns the loss of his love, Chloe (abducted by pirates in a previous scene). Thankfully, and right on cue, Chloe reappears after having been saved by Pan and the lovers collapse into each other's arms before the suite continues with a dance of celebration. 

This work has moments that in my mind are the closest depiction of love and connection. 

Chip Brienza

Chip Brienza

You know the breathtaking love scene between Spartacus and Varinia from the 1960 film? Barely a tween when I first saw it, and still too young to know why, I felt a hot rush, my cheeks flush, and my pulse quicken.  

Old enough to know why, I felt the same when I first heard the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from Aram Khachaturian’s 1954 ballet. Poignant, passionate, ecstatic music speaks to the almost unbearable longing, joy and sorrow, loss; yet hope, in the power of love. A power that each and every human has the ability to feel and express.  

In this story about a slave rebellion, the power of music can bring a moment of awe, when the restraints of self are lifted, and in its place comes peace and calm … and, with Love, the true spirit of freedom soars. 

Happy Valentine’s Day. 

Matthew Dayton

Matthew Dayton

Mozart: Duo for Violin and Viola in G major, K. 423: II. Adagio

I like to use Valentine's Day and its rituals as reminders to spend some time contemplating what a truly fulfilling and enduring romantic relationship might look and feel like at its best. And to that end, I feel like one piece of music that embodies my vision of an ideal romantic partnership (which I might describe as two souls drawn by their deepest natures to create and express ever more beauty in the world together) is this Adagio, a perfect expression of two equal voices weaving around and supporting each other to reach ever higher and more beautiful sounds and gestures.

Julie Tucker

Julie Huang Tucker

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2: II. Adagio Sostenuto 

To me, this movement encapsulates many facets of romantic love. It blossoms mysteriously, the strings drawing out a series of sustained chords whose harmonies leave us unsure as to where the music is headed. “The very essence of romance is uncertainty,” said Oscar Wilde. We travel from the previous movement’s key of C minor to its brighter, relative major key: E major.  Despite being in a “happy” key, the lyrical, chromatic melody is tender, haunting, seeking.  It is first sung by a solo flute, accompanied by steady piano arpeggiations – the latter signifying time flowing on, regardless of the state of the heart.  The dual and contradictory nature of love, both a source of immense joy and relentless pain, is distilled in this melody, in which you can feel the lush richness of a heart saturated with love, as well as the sharp ache of the heart, broken and bereft.  

Evan Keely

Evan Keely

Beethoven: Fidelio, Act II: O namenlose Freude! (Duet)

In keeping with my ongoing commitment to be more of an opera nerd, on Valentine’s Day I think of the countless love stories depicted upon the operatic stage. One of the most moving to me is portrayed in Beethoven’s Fidelio, the story of Leonore, a woman of indefatigable resolve and indomitable courage who risks everything to rescue her husband, Florestan — a man whose love for his wife sustains his spirit through crushing and utterly unjust misery. 

True love prevails: the spouses are reunited, freedom is attained, justice is served. In the moment of incomparable bliss as the lovers are at last able to embrace, they launch into a rapturous duet, “O namenlose Freude!” — “O nameless joy!” Here, Beethoven borrows music from an abandoned operatic project he briefly undertook years earlier with Emanuel Schikaneder, librettist for Mozart’s Magic Flute. 

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Wherever you find yourself this February 14, remember that music is always here for you. From all of us at WETA Classical, Happy Valentine’s Day.

Filed under: Valentine's Day, Playlist

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