Pastorale in classical music is best defined by the feeling. It is slow, and reminds you of the pastoral lifestyle, particularly the shepherds. It is supposed to evoke country scenes - considering that the country is clean and tidy and people are stress-free. Does this seem idealized? It may to the urban readers. It may also touch their heart, make them want to lead simpler yet richer lives. It is not a fantasy.
My definition of Pastorale is -- that which makes you reach within the peace of your heart. The pastorale music reminds you of that peace. It soothes you, makes you remember what you always wanted. Therefore, it is not a fantasy. It may be fantasy for people who have given up in general.
Here are some instances that will tell you about the pastoral lifestyle.
"In studying scores the first which came into my hands were the Beethoven symphonies. Anyone can have them now, but they were difficult for a boy to get in Worcester thirty years ago. I, however, managed to get two or three, and I remember distinctly the day I was able to buy the Pastoral Symphony. I stuffed my pockets with bread and cheese and went out into the fields to study it. That was what I always did." [source]
This feeling above, described by composer Edward Elgar, sums up the pastoral feel. Nature, peacefulness, cheese in pocket, and passion. Passion was never supposed to be nerve-wrecking.
One of the most well-known love poems in the English language, "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe, is a pastoral. Throughout the poem, the speaker describes the beauty of the landscape as a means for wooing his love interest:
A belt of straw and ivy buds,With coral clasps and amber studs:And if these pleasures may thee move,Come live with me, and be my love.[source]
One of the most famous symphonies is Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. If you type 'pastorale' in the google search bar, you are bound to be directed to this work. I will let you discover that marvel for yourself.
This symphony, in fact, is the masterly expression of that happy and contented feeling which the lover of Nature experiences during a ramble in the country. [source]
And this is Pastorale from Arcangelo Corelli's 'Christmas Concerto'. I suggest you read the Marlowe poem, mentioned above, while listening to this. Or any pastoral or 'peace' poem. You will see the strength in my definition of the pastorale.
(main photo: Frank Winkler)