YR3 Week6: Antonio Vivaldi - The Four Seasons; Shirley Collins

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(program)

London FFSS Recording. Printed in the U.K. // Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1741) // Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons) // Karl Münchinger conducting the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra 

  • La Primavera

  • L’Estate 

  • L’Autunno

  • L’Inverno 

At dawn, the hunters rise, ready for the chase. 
With horns, guns and dogs they venture out, 
Chasing the quarry, following its tracks. 
Terrified and weakened by the noise
Of guns and dogs, fatally wounded, 
Pitifully it tries to flee, but dies oppressed. 
“” excerpt from vivaldi’s Sonetto Dimostrativo: ‘Autumn’, translated by robert philip


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how to make the new roommate think you’re a basic bitch in one easy step: blast the Quattro Stagioni throughout the apartment on repeat for an entire week (my bad bro). though to be fair i’m privy to at least one of his pumpkin spice latte purchases since the start of september, so i guess its a draw. is The Four Seasons the pumpkin spice latte of the classical canon? moving on: yes, what would this weekly collection of compositions be if i didn’t have at least one sellout week featuring music that everyone and their cousin has heard to exhaustion? for me, however, what comes to mind when i think of vivaldi is, incidentally, contemporary german composer max richter. his 2012 album ‘Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons’ is the Four Seasons that i believe in. as such i never actually listened, until this week, to the original vivaldi composition in its entirety. 

Vivaldi had extended periods away from Venice. Details are sketchy, but it is known that he returned to his post at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà in the summer of 1723, with a new contract to write two concertos a month. Two years later a set of twelve concertos by Vivaldi was published in Amsterdam, under the title, Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione (The Contest between Harmony and Invention). The first four of them are The Four Seasons. “” robert philip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music

the colours of richter’s recomposition are more vibrant, they travel at a more exhilarating velocity, but the original that inspired it feels more cheerful, less cerebral, more out in the open, less conceptual, more picturesque than picture-perfect, more rustic and terrestrial. but the value of comparison between the two should be inversely proportional to the amount of time that has passed since their creation, i believe (287 years brings that value to about zero). 

conceptually, vivaldi’s Four Seasons was ahead of its time as the work is perhaps the inception of what later developed in the early 19th century as the tone poem: orchestral music directly evocative of a specific non-musical source. the non-musical source in this case is two-fold; there’s the obvious basis of the annual cycle of seasons, then there are the four corresponding poems, Sonetto Dimostrativo (most likely authored by vivaldi) that accompany the sonic sceneries painted by the four individual concertos that all-together form the Seasons. 

that concept is not too dissimilar to the one that inspires the keeping of this blog: grasping at the intractable relationship between the aesthetics of a season---and the innumerable mini-seasons within each of the four---and the music that supply and demand inspiration from this natural aesthetic. i admit year-round 25℃ weather would not be perfectly conducive to my routine here...the ample dramas of our quadrametrically opposed canadian seasons is a boon for the variety of compositions on this roster. that was the same concept that has engendered the last decade of justin vernon’s Bon Iver. it has been the foremost musical event of my life so far to be among the many witnesses of this project that was born of the austerities of winter, bloom into the cloistral humidity of autumnal festivities that their latest albumis (the experience of i,i, is as if listening to a peter bruegel painting: everywhere you turn your ear, up pops some little shred of collaboration, a beautiful tête-à-tête between harmony and invention, vestiges of the spirit of generosity from which this album was born). the band describes it as their autumn album, the fourth installation of what is for me a new Four Seasons. the instinct is to think that this must be the end of Bon Iver (a truly horrid thought), that after the completion of the cycle of seasons, there’s nowhere else to take the project...but then again that would belie the entire spirit of a cycle.


(spring) 

Bon Iver, Bon Iver  (2011)

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011)

To the festive sound of rustic bagpipes
Nymphs and shepherds dance beneath 
The brilliant canopy of spring. 
“” vivaldi’s Sonetto Dimostrativo: ‘Spring’, translated by robert philip

The soloist enters with birdsong, joined by two other birds (violins) in the orchestra. After the next ritornello, a gentle pattern of semiquavers suggests the breeze and the gentle murmuring of streams. In the next episode, rapid repeated notes, flashing scales, and arpeggio patterns represent the thunder and lightning. After another ritornello, the birds return, and a final ritornello brings the movement to a close. 
“” robert philip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music


(summer)

22, A Million  (2016)

22, A Million (2016)

[Adagio - Presto] 
His limbs are torn from their repose 
By fear of lightning and of fierce storms
And by furious swarms of flies and midges. 

[Presto] 
Alas, his fears prove justified
As the heavens roar, and hailstones 
Break off the proud heads of standing corn. 
“” excerpt from vivaldi’s Sonetto Dimostrativo: ‘Summer’, translated by robert philip

For Vivaldi, summer is not a benign season, but a period in which blistering heat is broken by violent storms. The short-breathed phrases of the opening Allegro non troppo evoke exhaustion in the heat. This idea recurs throughout the movement as a ritornello. “” “” robert philip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music




(autumn) 

i,i  (2019)

i,i (2019)

At dawn, the hunters rise, ready for the chase. 
With horns, guns and dogs they venture out, 
Chasing the quarry, following its tracks. 
Terrified and weakened by the noise
Of guns and dogs, fatally wounded, 
Pitifully it tries to flee, but dies oppressed. 
“” excerpt from vivaldi’s Sonetto Dimostrativo: ‘Autumn’, translated by robert philip

In the slow movement [Adagio molto], everyone is asleep, and the Adagio molto consists of a sustained progression of peaceful chords. The harpsichord player is instructed to elaborate the bass line with arpeggios, and much depends on how this is done. Naturally, the simplest arpeggios produce the most peaceful effect.  
“” robert philip, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music


(winter)

For Emma, Forever Ago  (2007)

For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)

Walking across the ice, slowly and carefully, 
Afraid of tripping and falling. 
A sudden turn, a fall, and then
Upright on the ice again, running frantically 
Until the ice cracks and gives way. 
To feel, blasting through the bolted door, 
Sirocco, Boreas and all the winds at war: 
This is winter which, nonetheless, brings joy. 
“” excerpt from vivaldi’s Sonetto Dimostrativo: ‘Winter’, translated by robert philip





(song of the week #786: Blackbirds and Thrushes - shirley collins)

every last tuesday of the month there’s a meeting of the Toronto Folk Singers Club in the Tiki Room at Tranzac: a loose circle of folding chairs are filled by musicians of various and no expertise. each clockwise trip around the circle invites each person to contribute a folk song to the evening, either one they’ve written, a popular favourite, or a century-old forgotten gem. and should you happen to be on familiar terms with whichever song they’ve chosen, the idea is to join in with your instrument, voice or any other sound-making entity at hand. so if you’re ever in the mood to share a song with some very encouraging strangers, or partake in the much more therapeutic experience of listening to someone sing in a context that isn’t performance---this monthly get-together is highly recommended. 

i’ve discovered a couple good old folk tunes via the TFSC, and butchered a couple acapella covers of my some of my favourites (the absence of judgement is also therapeutic). it was there that i discovered the above folk tune last year. an exhaustive search brought me to shirley collins’s high and nasally rendition. now in her eighties, collins is an english folk musician who was very active in the 60’s and 70’s revival of english folk songs. her voice is something of a combination of a whistle and twangy lonesome wail, partaking in the same English Folk Revival as the likes of anne briggs, maddy prior and vashti bunyan.

As I was a-walking for my recreation,
Down by the green meadows I silently strayed.
There I met a fair maid making great lamentation,
“Oh, Jimmy will be slain in the wars I'm afraid.”

The blackbirds and thrushes sing in the green bushes,
The larks and the doves seem to mourn for this maid.
And the song she sang was concerning her lover;
“Oh, Jimmy will be slain in the wars I'm afraid.”

When Jimmy returned with his heart full of yearning,
He found his dear Mary all dead in her grave.
He cried, “I'm forsaken, my poor heart is breaking,
I wish that I never had left this fair maid.”