Daniel Hope on ‘The Four Seasons’ and Max Richter’s ‘Vivaldi Recomposed’
Violinist Daniel Hope shares thoughts on Vivaldi’s masterpiece and its modern new take before his upcoming performance with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra on November 16.
I first experienced Vivaldi as a toddler at Yehudi Menuhin’s festival in Gstaad, Switzerland, in 1975…
One day I heard what I thought was birdsong coming from the stage. It was the opening solo of “La Primavera” from The Four Seasons. It had such an electrifying effect that I still call it my “Vivaldi Spring.” How was it possible to conjure up so vivid, so natural a sound, with just a violin?
In 1723 Vivaldi set about writing a series of works he boldly titled “Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’invenzione” (The trial of harmony and invention), Opus 8. It consists of 12 concerti, seven of which — “Spring,” “Summer,” “Autumn” and “Winter” (which make up The Four Seasons), “Pleasure,” “The Hunt” and “Storm at Sea” — paint astonishingly vivid, vibrant scenes. In “Storm at Sea,” Vivaldi reached a new level of virtuosity, pushing technical mastery to the limit as the violinist’s fingers leap and shriek across the fingerboard, recalling troubled waters.
In the score, each of the four seasons are prefaced by four sonnets, possibly Vivaldi’s own, that establish each concerto as a musical image of that season. At the top of every movement, Vivaldi gives us a written description of what we are about to hear. These range from “the blazing sun’s relentless heat, men and flocks are sweltering” (Summer) to peasant celebrations (Autumn) in which “the cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.” Images of warmth and wine are wonderfully intertwined. When the faithful hound “barks” in the slow movement of “Spring,” we experience it just as clearly as the patter of raindrops on the roof in the largo of “Winter.” No composer of the time got music to sing, speak and depict quite like this.
Today The Four Seasons, with more than 1,000 available recordings, are being reimagined…
Astor Piazzolla, Uri Caine, Philip Glass and others have all created their own versions. In Spring 2012, I received an enigmatic call from the British composer Max Richter, who said he wanted to “recompose” The Four Seasons for me. His problem, he explained, was not with the music, but how we have treated it. We are subjected to it in supermarkets, elevators or when a caller puts you on hold. Like many of us, he was deeply fond of the “Seasons” but felt a degree of irritation at the music’s ubiquity. He told me that because Vivaldi’s music is made up of regular patterns, it has affinities with the seriality of contemporary postminimalism, one style in which he composes. Therefore, he said, the moment seemed ideal to reimagine a new way of hearing it.
I had always shied away from recording Vivaldi’s original. There are simply too many other versions already out there. But Mr. Richter’s reworking meant listening again to what is constantly new in a piece we think we are hearing when, really, we just blank it out. In fact, working with Vivaldi Recomposed since 2012 inspired me to finally record The Four Seasons last year! In this program with UMS on November 16, pairing Vivaldi’s original with Max Richter’s brilliant new take, I feel both works inform and reflect on each other to create fresh and exciting connections.
— Daniel Hope