Sunday, November 9, 2014

What Makes The Four Seasons Great?
I enjoy Rob Kapilow.  I learn more about music in an hour of his talks deconstructing a piece then I did in all of my high school music history class.  Granted that classes didn't focus on the same things, but it was so boring compared to the enthusiasm and insight Kapilow provides.

He was in town as part of the Toronto Symphony's "Exposed" series.  The piece of music in question: Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, "Autumn" and "Winter".  Apparently several seasons ago he covered "Spring" and "Summer".  Unfortunately I missed that concert. Chee-Yun was the guest violinist and is a beautiful player.  In the Q&A after the concert she told us she had started learning the piece in middle school, a "long, long time ago".  My understanding of her story, which I hope I heard correctly, was that the violin she was playing was from 1669 and was actually buried with a guy for a while.  Obviously it has been well looked after since then as it still has the original varnish.  She's decorated it a bit by adding a glittering fine tuning post and mute, which was a gift from a student.  They matched her shimmering dress and shoes.  She doesn't practice in the heels though :)
Chee-Yun (

While we're on the subject of violins, someone asked about the one played by concertmaster Mark Skazinetsky.  His was made in 2008 by a friend in Salt Lake City.  Talk about old meeting new.

But let's get to Vivaldi.  I had no idea The Four Seasons had accompanying poetry!  Granted, it's not great poetry which has led some to believe Vivaldi wrote it himself.  Given how well it fits the music, that makes sense to me.  I also never thought about "Autumn" and "Winter" each having three movements.  I generally classified The Four Seasons itself as a piece with 4 movements, never thinking they were further divided.
A highlight in the deconstruction of the first movement of "Autumn" was the seven ways Vivaldi makes music sound drunk, including a cello that can't find the beat paired with double stops in the solo violin.  Kapilow also pointed out examples of sequencing where the same pattern is repeated higher or lower.  It was fun to listen for this and be able to recognize it elsewhere as well.  In the second movement the orchestra goes to sleep, not literally, but the music has descending arcs as if each time they can't get back to the top note to repeat the pattern.  The concluding movement is made exciting by the dotted rhythm which we sang out along with Kapilow.  A boring version using a straight rhythm was demonstrated by the orchestra with the instructions to play it in as dull a manner as possible.  There's nothing quite like a little rhythmic pattern to add interest.
The poetry of "Winter" is perfect for the music.  So we could see this the appropriate lines of text were projected above the orchestra in the second half of the concert where they performed the full piece.  The trembling notes represent shivering while the solo violin breaks in as the "bitter blast of a horrible wind".  This then gives way to ", constantly stamping one's feet".  It's so easy to hear what's happening with the words put to it.  The second movement text opens with "to spend restful, happy days at the fireside".   Musically this is matched perfectly by the lovely solo melody, while the pizzicato in the orchestra is the rain outside.  Ice arrives in the third movement "to walk on the ice, and with slow steps to move about cautiously for fear of falling".  Then "to go fast, to slip and fall down" represented by the downward running notes.  It finishes with "that's winter, but of a kind to gladden one's heart".  At Kapilow said, how very Canadian.  Here's hoping this winter is like movement two more than three.

Vivaldi has always been one of my favourite composers, but this work is even more enjoyable now that I know more about the music, and all you have to do is listen.