Recomposing Vivaldi’s “Winter”

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As we await today’s meteorological prediction from the groundhog, let’s enjoy the icy sonic chill of “Winter” from The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s collection of violin concertos composed around 1720. This piece can sound radically different from one performance to another, depending on choices of tempi and style. The concerto’s programatic elements remain: the orchestra’s frigid opening ponticello (a raspy sound created by playing as close to the bridge as possible), flying spiccato bowing suggesting pellets of frozen precipitation hitting a hard surface. The final movement drifts off into the solitude of a bleak, desolate winter landscape.

Here is Gidon Kremer’s 1981 performance with the English Chamber Orchestra:

Vivaldi Remixed

In Baroque performances, ornamentation added an element of spontaneity. The notes on the page sometimes became a blueprint for improvisation, similar to chord progressions for a jazz musician. German-born British composer Max Richter (b. 1966) has pushed this tradition even further with his Recomposed Four Seasons (2012). Vivaldi’s music becomes the raw material for a new piece rooted in the looping repetition of minimalism and electronic dance music. Fragments of the original composition emerge and find new lives of their own. It’s a musical conversation spanning three hundred years. Listen to the complete work here. Pay attention to the way the music slowly and gradually develops. If you feel inspired, share your thoughts about the music in the thread below.

Here is Daniel Hope with the Orchestra L’arte del Mondo in 2013:

As a bonus, here is Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” and Written on the Sky from Blue Notebooks (2004). Also listen to Luminous from the soundtrack of the 2011 film Perfect Sense (The Last Word) and Rainlightcomposed for Random International’s Rain Room, a 2012 art instillation at London’s Barbican Centre.

In Terra Pax

Take a break from the holiday hubbub and spend a few minutes listening to In Terra Pax (“And on earth, peace”), the beautiful Christmas cantata by English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). You might be reminded of the lush, layered string writing of Ralph Vaughan Williams. There are also moments in the piece which may have influenced John Rutter. Get a detailed introduction of the piece here and here.

Written in 1954, this was one of Finzi’s last pieces. The opening motive was inspired by English church bells:

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Finzi sets part of Robert Bridges’s poem, Noel: Christmas Eve 1913:

[quote]A frosty Christmas Eve when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village in the water’d valley
Distant music reach’d me peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above with stars was spangled o’er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels or the bright stars singing.
Now blessed be the tow’rs that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders (said I) an’ our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above and the mad romping din.
But to me heard afar it was starry music
Angels’ song, comforting as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me by the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured as I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect of th’ eternal silence.[/quote]

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Elegy for Violin and Piano, Op. 22[/typography] 

As a bonus, here is Daniel Hope playing Finzi’s Elegy for Violin and Piano:

"Spheres" by Daniel Hope

SpheresMusica universalis, or the “music of the spheres” is the ancient philosophical concept that the movements of the sun, moon and planets generate celestial vibrations. Pythagoras accidentally discovered that a musical pitch sounds in direct proportion to the length of the string which produces it. He was interested in the concept of universal harmony rooted in mathematical ratios-a unifying cosmic “music.”

Violinist Daniel Hope’s new CD, Spheres finds inspiration in these big ideas. Spheres puts music of J.S Bach and Johann Paul von Westhoff side by side with works by modern composers including Philip Glass, Lera Aurbach, Michael Nyman and Arvo Pärt. The result is a collection of short pieces which seem to transcend style and time period:

[quote style=”boxed”]In this album my idea was to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same “galaxy” but yet are united by the age-old question: is there anything out there? -Daniel Hope[/quote]

The CD opens with Imitazione delle campane by Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705), music which may have inspired Bach to write the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. This music could easily be mistaken for the modern minimalism of Arvo Pärt. Hope has some interesting things to say about this piece and the historical significance of Westhoff as a composer and violinist.

Another excerpt from the CD is Musica Universalis by Alex Baranowski, a piece that was commissioned for the album by Daniel Hope:

Spheres also includes I Giorni (2001) by film composer Ludovico Einaudi:

Hope offers a track by track listener’s guide to the CD. For more information on Spheres watch this interview and this clip with composer Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of Sergei Prokofiev). If you’re interested in hearing etherial and expressive new violin music as well as rediscovering a forgotten gem like the Westhoff, you’ll enjoy this recording.

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