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Monday, May 4, 2015

THE FOUR SEASONS OF VIVALDI

Still in Napa, actually, Vacaville, golfing.  I'll at some point post a summary of our adventure here.

Recently, I revealed that a third of a century ago when I worked in the U.S. Senate I promised myself I'd spend my Friday lunches on the beach when I returned to Hawaii.  Around that time, there were two films, both starring Alan Alda:
  • In 1978, Same Time, Next Year was panned by Rotten Tomatoes reviewers with a 40% rating, although 85% of the audience liked it.  The first scene occurred in 1951 in a Mendocino County inn where a 24-year old housewife from Oakland happens to meet a 27-year old accountant from New Jersey.  They have an affair and agree to meet once a year at the same time, and did so for next 26 years.  The movie went on to gain four Academy Award nominations, including as Best Actress for Ellen Burstyn and Best Song for The Last Time I Felt Like This.  Alda did get a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.  For some reason, I had long thought the Four Seasons concertos served as the background music
  • It was in 1981 that a second Alda movie, Four Seasons, was released, where three couples took vacations together during the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.  Rotten Tomatoes gave it 75%/75% ratings.  Vivaldi's Four Seasons accompanied the seasons.
During my DC stint, I began to appreciate baroque music, which began around 1580, but the popular stuff came in the final third from 1680, including Pachelbel's Canon in D, which he might have written in 1694 for Johann Sebastian Bach's older brother's wedding, and extending into Vivaldi, Bach and Handel, with Bach's Mass in b Minor composed in 1748 and Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks coming in 1749, the year before the end of the Baroque Period.

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, was born in Venice in 1628, almost four centuries ago.  He was a violinist, teacher and cleric, ordained as a Catholic priest in 1704.  In the period just after 1720 he wrote The Four Seasons, violin concertos dedicated to Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.

To quote:

The inspiration for the concertos was probably the countryside around Mantua. They were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties from both the hunters' and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, ice-skating children, and warming winter fires. 

Each concerto is associated with a sonnet, possibly by Vivaldi, describing the scenes depicted in the music. They were published as the first four concertos in a collection of twelve, Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, Opus 8, published in Amsterdam by Michel-Charles Le Cène in 1725.

How does one distinguish one season from another?  Each is around ten minutes long with three parts (total time of around 42 minutes with 12 parts):

  • All start and end joyfully (Allegro), with Summer having a particularly fast tempo (Presto) at the end.
  • Spring and Winter have a slower pace (Largo) in the middle.
  • Summer and Autumn have a slightly faster pace (Adagio), but slower than the beginning and end.
Regarding the seasons:
  • Spring
    • Starts with birds and thunderstorms,
    • Conjure meadow, rustling leaves, falling asleep.
    • Festive sounds of nymphs dancing in the Spring, with bagpipes.
  • Summer
    • Heat, followed by soft breezes, birds again and the approaching north wind.
    • Fear of lightning and thunder, gnats.
    • Heavens thunder and roar.
  • Autumn
    • Drinking, singing and dancing after a bountiful  harvest.
    • Into sweet slumber, very slow.
    • Hunters, dogs, guns, beast flees and dies.
  • Winter
    • Trembling from the icy cold, teeth chattering.
    • Back home to the warmth of the fire while the outside storms.
    • Careful, slippery...comes the cold north wind.

Click on that link, spend some time on it, and you'll be able tell one Vivaldi season from another.  If you need additional instruction, try this tutorial by Pinckus Zukerman.

Two compilations include  The Ultimate Vivaldi:  The Essential Masterpiece, a boxed set with five CDs and 81 performances.  and Vivaldi's Greatest Hit:  The Ultimate Four Seasons featured 23 artist.  Sinfini Music provides their selection of the best, which is saying something, because there are perhaps a thousand recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.  Here is a link to 8 hours of Four Seasons.

Vivaldi's output was prodigious, with 40 operas to his credit, involvement in 50 others and 500 concertos.  There are more than 100 complete recordings of The Four Seasons and thousands of excerpts (bunch of movies, such as Pretty Woman, Tin Cup, etc.)   Nigel Kennedy and the English Chamber Orchestra CD of The Four Seasons is the best-selling classical recording of all time.

Vivaldi deeply influenced Johann Sebastian Bach, who was seven years younger.  At the height of Vivaldi's career he received commissions from royalty and nobility, but was long said to be of poor health, dying in poverty at the age of 63.  Johann Sebastian Bach died at 65 and George Handel at 74.  However, the life expectancy in Europe in the 1700s was around 40.  To close, that is a SisTeMu (graphic notation system) of Vivaldi's Spring by Laia Clos.   

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Tropical Storm Noul, still only at 50 MPH, will definitely strengthen into a typhoon, and, at this time, appears headed for the northern portion of the Philippines:


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