Musical Musings

How to Vacation Like a Romantic-Era Composer

How to Vacation Like a Romantic-Era Composer

The more you dig into your favorite classical music’s origin stories, the more you realize how many of history’s greatest composers had something in common: They were experts at taking a holiday. Just like average Joes and Janes, now and then these brilliant musical minds needed a break from the daily grind. And as you’ll see in the following three vignettes, a dose of good, old-fashioned R-and-R can work wonders as a burnout cure and stoke one’s creative fire.

Llangrannog Beach

Llangrannog Beach in West Wales. // Photo by Reading Tom

An Elgar Vacation: Seaside in West Wales

Sir Edward Elgar regularly made excursions to Wales, leaving the hustle and bustle of his life in England for quiet work on the rugged Welsh coastline. For centuries, the country has been known as the “land of song,” with a rich folk tradition in the choral arts. When he wasn’t sketching musical motifs, hiking the green hills, or savoring the local cuisine, Elgar liked to put on an old pair of pajamas and go sea-bathing.
In the summer of 1901, Elgar was struggling with a bad case of the blues. He readily accepted a friend’s invitation to a change of scenery in the village of Llangrannog, renowned for the swath of golden sand that piles up at its craggy cliff-bases. One of Elgar’s most famous themes came to him on that week in August while he perched above Llangrannog Beach. In the program notes for his Introduction and Allegro for strings, Elgar wrote:
“On the cliff between blue sea and blue sky, thinking out my theme, there came up to me the sound of singing.”
His idea to spin the tune into an overture stalled until 1905 when his close friend and fellow composer August Jaeger (the beloved Nimrod of Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations) urged him to write something for the newly founded London Symphony Orchestra. Elgar unearthed his little “Welsh tune” and developed it into a lushly layered concerto grosso that pushes the string musicians to the heights of virtuosity.

Památník Antonína Dvořáka

 The Kounic estate in Vysoká now hosts a Dvořák memorial and museum. // Photo by Petr Brož

A Dvořák Vacation: Bohemian Countryside Retreat

While Antonín Dvořák enjoyed the international travel that came with his rise to fame, he preferred to summer in his beloved homeland of Bohemia, particularly in the tiny forest town of Vysoká u Příbramě. He first visited Vysoká for the wedding of Count Václav Kounic and Josefina Čermáková (the older sister of Dvořák’s wife, Anna). He returned to the Kounics' Vysoká estate for five summers until he was able to purchase a plot of old farmland from his brother-in-law, complete with a run-down granary that he renovated into a summer house.
While on vacation, Dvořák’s daily routine would always start with an early-morning walk in the woods, after which he would hurry to the piano in his study and spend the rest of the morning at work. In this manner, Dvořák fully composed and orchestrated his Eighth Symphony in under three months in 1889.
Lake Rusalka
This pond near Dvořák's summer home in Vysoká has been named Lake Rusalka in honor of the composer's most famous opera. // Photo by Zdeněk Livanec
“Melodies simply pour out of me,” Dvořák remarked, reveling in the inspiration gifted to him by the woodlands, little lakes, country churches, and high-spirited villagers he encountered every day. Unabashedly tuneful, irresistibly cheerful, and marked by a casual grace, the Symphony No. 8 captures a happy return to the comforts of home.  


The Palace at Holyroodhouse stands in Edinburgh, Scotland. // Photo by Daniel Kraft

A Mendelssohn Vacation: Palace Tours in Scotland

Like Elgar, the landscape of Great Britain fired up Felix Mendelssohn’s musical imagination as well. A trip to Scotland at age 20 produced not just the Hebrides Overture but also planted the seed for his Symphony No. 3. Mendelssohn was deeply impressed by a visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the historic home of Scottish royalty.
“We went, in the deep twilight, to the palace where Queen Mary lived and loved,” Mendelssohn wrote. “The adjoining chapel is now roofless; grass and ivy grow abundantly in it, and before the ruined altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything around is broken and moldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.”
The ruins of the Holyrood Abbey, founded in 1128. // Photo by Kaihsu Tai
Although Mendelssohn devised the symphony’s opening melody that day, it took him 12 years to finish the work. The Symphony No. 3 premiered in 1842 with Mendelssohn on the podium at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
You can experience all of these vacation-inspired works in Sarasota Orchestra’s 2023-2024 concert season! Don’t forget that with a Flex Pass, you can purchase three (3) or more concerts at a 15% discount and receive subscriber benefits. Check out the following concert programs to learn more and build your very own Flex Pass. 


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