Classic Mornings

Keeping an Ear Out for Storms


It always sounds so matter of fact and rather frightening. I’m sure you’ve heard the line often enough in the weather advisories: now is the time to think about what you would do if a storm should rapidly develop.

For all the storm warnings and advisories I have passed along to listeners over the years, I generally feel as if I’m assisting those who want to avoid that weather and take shelter. Yet I know that there probably are some who take their cues from the weather advisories as if those were promotional announcements for upcoming live events. They know exactly what they’ll do if a storm should develop. They’ll head for the front porch. I have known families that sit with refreshments to enjoy storms just like others sit in front of the television set to watch movies like Twister or Into the Storm. For them, it’s the ultimate in reality viewing.

Then there are the storm chasers who have passed in and out of the WILL newsroom over the years. Not only are they not afraid of storms. They hunt them down to get a close view and video footage. I’m sure if there was a way to physically capture the storm, they would have collections of them. Recently I heard an interview with someone who actually flies into such storms to observe them.

I’m not totally baffled by such adventurers. Admittedly, I like a good musical storm.  A number of years ago I listened to dozens of performances of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons concertos, including the memorable storm at the end of the Summer concerto. After the first dozen, I found myself waiting with great anticipation for the fine differences among the presentations of the great storm.  I was disappointed whenever that storm arrived with anything less than grand ferocity. I hadn’t been drawn to that aspect of the Vivaldi concertos originally. But I did get caught up in it. And I have to admit, it’s very much like the physical storm chasers, though on a different sort of level.

The early music ensemble Le Concert des Nations and its music director Jordi Savall seem like they’re out to take the classical music world by storm with their newest recording. It’s titled The Elements – and subtitled Tempests, Storms and Marine Festivals (Alia Vox 9914). It’s a recording from a live concert that wasn’t threatened by rain, but in which the players had free rein to incorporate all the excitement of Baroque musical storms. For one thing, the group uses hand cranked wind machines. Those can sound somewhat silly and theatrical. But the machines used on the recording manage to create the sounds of frighteningly intense winds at times. The recording includes music by Jean-Féry Rebel, Matthew Locke, Antonio Vivaldi, Marin Marais, Georg Philipp Telemann and Jean-Philippe Rameau. The Vivaldi work isn’t from the Four Seasons.  It’s the concerto known as La tempesta di mare (The Tempest of the Sea). The recording includes a medley of storm music from the stage works of Jean Philippe Rameau. It’s an exciting finale with everything from thunderclaps to handclaps supplied by the audience.

All of this may remind you of some other well-known storms in classical music like the one from Beethoven’s 6th symphony, the “Pastoral,” or the storm of the William Tell Overture. Even Johann Strauss, Jr.’s Thunder and Lightning Polka is a big league storm piece, though representing a lighter side. What’s exciting is that it’s all done without pictures. They’re musical storm stories that you enter as a listener, supplying your own pictures.  And sometimes it can seem as if you’re as close to a storm as the folks in the cars and the planes, though at a much safer distance.

Credit should go to the “storm makers” – the musicians who help create those musical storms. They’re not just unleashing fury with their instruments. They’re complying with the composers’ directives, coordinating all of the musical elements in just the right way to bring about a “perfect storm.”

Still, it’s probably not everybody’s cup of tempestuous tea to watch or chase storms, or even to listen to musical storms. But I’m guessing that many of you have that secret desire to be caught unexpectedly in one particular kind of storm: a storm of applause that follows a memorable performance that you attend. And the longer it lasts, the better, right?  See, you’re a storm chaser too!

Take shelter from the ordinary morning routine. Join me for Classic Mornings, Monday through Friday from 9 to noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at