Changing of the seasons

Antonio Vivaldi composed The Four Seasons (‘Le quattro stagioni’) in 1723. A work of unmatched artistry and elegance, it would become one of the most popular pieces of baroque music, if not classical music in general. It is also an early example of program music, with the four concertos named after the different seasons and following closely a set of corresponding sonnets.

The Four Seasons is an integral part of the violin repertoire, a work literally hardwired in the brain of every violinist. As might be expected, there is an abundance of recordings: approximately 1,000(!) different recorded versions of The Four Seasons have made their appearance since 1939 by various soloists and orchestras.

My personal favorites include the recording by Yehudi Menuhin and Camerata Lysy Gstaad from 1981, as well as Nigel Kennedy’s popular 1989 recording with the English Chamber Orchestra. Kennedy had studied with Menuhin as a child, and his recording of the The Four Seasons would become one of the best-selling classical works of all time. An eccentric figure, Kennedy has never hesitated to introduce improvisatory elements in his playing, which often makes his live performances electrifying.

Inevitably, some approaches to Vivaldi’s great composition have proved to be more daring and stylistically innovative than others. This is the case with French pianist and composer Jacques Loussier (b. 1934), whose main claim to fame have been his magnificent jazz adaptations of J.S. Bach. Apart from its sheer musicality, the fact that Loussier’s rendition manages to capture the essence of the original work by means of a piano trio alone is impressive.

More recently, British composer Max Richter (b. 1966) offered us a truly astonishing re-composition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (its premiere was on 31 October 2012). In describing the 1st movement of his Summer, Richter talks about “relentless pulsed music”, adding that perhaps he “was also thinking about John Bonham’s drumming.” He has also referred to the connection between the harpsichord’s sound in the 2nd movement of his Autumn and the style of various pop recordings, including Abbey Road and several albums by the Beach Boys.

The metamorphoses of The Four Seasons throughout the ages show how a baroque masterpiece can survive in modern times through assuming different forms and incorporating elements from such diverse genres as jazz, pop, hard rock and minimalism. Seasons may keep changing, yet Vivaldi’s music remains.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Changing of the seasons

  1. Love the Richter version! If one has to listen to this piece… :)
    On the other hand, Nigel Kennedy is always a thrill to watch and listen to as well.
    Great post!

  2. Pingback: A bit early for summer though… | LaDona's Music Studio

  3. Thank you for these, they are all so lovely in their own ways! The sparkling sphere one was very attractive in sound and also visually amusing! :)

  4. Lampros

    Richter’s version has an astonishing conceptual resemblance to Eno’s version of Canon (1977).https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiw9nageo9w

    • Thanks for sharing this I hadn’t listened to it before. Really beautiful, and I can see what you mean – it definitely has an affinity with Richter’s vision, especially with the flowing, misty intro in his ‘Spring’.

  5. Pingback: Max Richter and Daniel Hope in concert (Paradiso, Amsterdam) | The Muser

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