It’s that time of year again. That time when your Instagram feed is flooded with photos of blossoms, Robarts Library’s southern garden and High Park are chock-full of people gaping and taking pictures, and passersby on the streets are suddenly friendly and happy (even if they may find themselves sneezing more than usual!).
You guessed it, according to sakurainhighpark.com, it’s cherry blossom (sakura) peak season in Toronto. Presented to the city of Toronto in 1959 by the Japanese Ambassador, Toru-Hagiwara, the breathtaking Somei-Yoshino Sakura trees found in High Park and other areas throughout the city were initially given as a thank you for the citizens of Toronto’s support of Japanese-Canadian refugees after World War II. Little did the Japanese ambassador know just how appreciated these trees would be by our social media-driven culture more than half a century later!
In case you just want to wander the sakura blossoms this weekend rather than photograph them (is that even possible?), here we present a classical music playlist to get you in the mood.
1: Sakura, Sakura – Traditional Japanese Folk Song
This Japanese folk song describes the delicate beauty of the sakura blossoms at the height of their season. “Is it mist, or clouds?” the song asks through a pentatonic scalar melody often played on the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument. Watch the virtuosic Kasumi Watanabe play the piece here:
2: Ah! Ah! Quanto cielo! Quanto mar! (Madama Butterfly) – Giacomo Puccini
Somehow Puccini knew exactly how to musically depict the exquisite, fragile beauty of the Japanese sakura blossoms, even without ever having seen them. In Cio-Cio San’s entrance in Act I of Puccini’s Japan-set opera, Madama Butterfly, you can almost see the pink petals falling as Cio-Cio San sings a rising melody with her friends describing her overwhelming happiness. Puccini’s unabashed use of the harp, soloistic employment of different strings and layering of voices only adds to the ecstatic beauty of the moment. Guarda quanti fior!
3: Printemps: Suite Symphonique – Claude Debussy
An early Debussy work originally begun when he was a Prix de Rome Scholar in 1887, Debussy’s interest in Eastern modalities and Wagnerian harmonies are evident in this lush, romantic work. Inspired by Botticelli’s famous Primavera painting, Debussy intended his piece to demonstrate “la genèse lente et souffrante des êtres et des choses dans la nature, puis l’épanouissement ascendant et se terminant par une éclatante joie de renaître à une vie nouvelle en quelque sorte,” or the slow, painful birth of living beings and things in nature, followed by their blossoming outward, ending with a burst of joy at being reborn to a new life of sorts. Keep this piece echoing through your head as you wander High Park this weekend.
4: Cherry Duet (L’amico Fritz) – Mascagni
Who can resist the lilting melodies of Mascagni’s beautiful “Cherry Duet” from L’amico Fritz, complete with all its delicious innuendoes about those irresistible cigliegie? Listen to Suzel and Fritz fall in love as they pick cherries (the actual fruit this time) in Act II of Mascagni’s lesser-known but delightful opera, L’amico Fritz.
5: Zefiro torna – Claudio Monteverdi
A romantic ode to Zephyrus, Greek God of the west wind, it’s impossible to listen to this piece without a spring in your step. This lively ciaccona describes the rapturous beauty of spring scattered by Zephyrus onto the heads of Phyllis and Chloris and throughout the fields. Sadly, the joyful ode ends with a bittersweet reminder that even the beauty of spring cannot heal a broken heart. Listen to Tafelmusik’s playful arrangement for strings here: