Download “Spring” from The Four Seasons, Opus 8 – Antonio Vivaldi (1678

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“Spring” from The Four Seasons, Opus 8 – Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)
Largo e pianissimo sempre
Allegro: Rustic Dance
Much can be said about Vivaldi, who was among the most original and influential composers of his generation. Though he later traveled extensively, his fame was established
in his native city of Venice. He was a violin virtuoso and an ordained priest. He composed voluminously in many areas of music, writing operas, oratorios, cantatas, trio sonatas and, most importantly, more than five hundred concertos for solo instruments and for
groups in various combinations. Today he is remembered most for having popularized
the concept of music that emphasizes the virtuosity of a single soloist, having influenced
the adoption of the three-movement concerto form that has become the standard and having established a new and higher standard of excellence for the genre.
The Four Seasons is Vivaldi’s most performed work and is among the earliest pieces of
program music to retain a place in the repertoire. For almost forty years Vivaldi served
as Music Director of the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage school for girls in Venice. The Four Seasons was among the vast majority of Vivaldi’s concertos composed to
be performed by these girls. What a remarkable school that must have been!
The Four Seasons are only the first of a set of twelve concertos that make up Vivaldi’s
Opus 8. The set, in its entirety, is titled Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (the
contest between harmony and invention). It was published in 1725 though evidence from
Vivaldi’s letters indicates that it was composed earlier, perhaps as early as 1711.
Program music is music that tells a story. Vivaldi based The Four Seasons on four sonnets, one for each season, which may have been written by the composer himself.
Spring’s sonnet alludes to birdsong, fountains and breezes, a thunderstorm, murmuring
leaves and branches, a sleeping goatherd and his vigilant dog, and a country dance of
nymphs and shepherds accompanied by bagpipes. Vivaldi marked the sonnet and the
musical score with corresponding letters so that the listener could have no difficulty in
matching the words with their musical representation.
The Allegro movement is in ritornello form in which the refrain is stated at the beginning, returns briefly during the movement and is restated at the end. Between the restatements of the ritornello by the full string orchestra (called, in this context, the ripieno), the soloist or a small group (the concertino) plays contrasting and descriptive material. It is with this material that Vivaldi describes birdsong, murmuring leaves, and the
The second Largo e pianissimo sempre movement describes the goatherd’s sleep with the
soloist’s slow and flowing melody and gives the dog’s bark to the violas who are instructed to play “very loudly and abruptly” despite the movement’s pianissimo sempre
(always very soft) title.
The third movement portrays the Rustic Dance. The bagpipe’s chanting is suggested by
the lilting tune of the violins, its drone by the sustained notes in the low strings.
The practices Vivaldi employed to make his works interesting – cleverly varying texture
and figuration and favoring angular and energetic rhythms – were widely copied by other
composers. Even J.S. Bach studied Vivaldi’s music and adopted many of his techniques.
It is safe to say that the importance of Vivaldi’s contributions to classical music would be
difficult to overestimate!
Celos – Jacob Gade (1879 – 1963)
Audience members who read these program notes prior to hearing the music may be
wondering about this piece as the title is likely to be unfamiliar. Many may recognize the
title when informed that the tune is more familiarly known as Jalousie or Jealousy. But,
once the song is heard, nearly everyone is likely to acknowledge its familiarity.
As strange as it may seem, Jealousy, certainly among the world’s most famous tangos,
was composed by a Dane. A native of Vijle, Denmark, Jacob Gade was the orchestra
conductor for a theater in the silent movie era. Composed to accompany a film, Gade
premiered the piece on September 14, 1925 and it became an instant international hit. It
has been featured in over one hundred films including Don Q. Son of Zorro and Death on
the Nile. Though he composed many other pieces, Jealousy was Gade’s only hit but its
royalties enabled him to live comfortably for the remainder of his life.
Por Una Cabeza Tango – Carlos Gardel (1890 – 1935) Arr. John Williams
Though it has been over seventy years since his death, Carlos Gardel is still revered in
Latin American as the “King of Tango.” As a singer his recordings were immensely
popular during his lifetime and he composed several tangos that are considered classics
of the genre. One of these, Por Una Cabeza, has been used in numerous films including
Scent of a Woman, Planet 51 and Schlinder’s List. The title translates as “by a head.”
When sung, the lyrics refer to horse racing and a man who compares his addictions to
gambling and to women.
This arrangement by John Williams was done for Itzhak Perlman and the two have recorded it together (with Williams as conductor) and performed it on the concert stage.
The arrangement demands a high level of musicianship as the soloist is called upon to
play the tango melody lyrically and also to display considerable virtuosity playing the
demanding counter melodies as the orchestra takes the lead.
Cuatro Estaciónes Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires)
Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992) Arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov
Primavera Porteña (Spring)
Verano Porteño (Summer)
Astor Piazzola, without doubt, exerted greater influence on the development of the tango
as a musical art form in the latter half of the twentieth century than any other composer.
Piazzolla was born almost exactly ninety years ago on March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata,
Argentina but spent most of his boyhood in New York City. He began the study of the
bandoneón (a bellows-type instrument derived from the concertina that is extremely
popular in Latin American tango music) at the age of eight and soon began to develop the
virtuosity that eventually carried him to fame. At the age of twelve, two events occurred
that were highly influential in his later development: he began the study of the piano with
a Hungarian teacher who instilled in him a love for the music of Bach, and he met and
became a friend of Carlos Gardel.
In subsequent years, Piazzolla’s musical development progressed rapidly. Following his
return to Argentina, he performed with increasingly competent tango orchestras and
composed tangos both for his own performance and for film scores. In 1941, he began
studying composition with Alberto Ginistera and intensively studied the music of Ravel,
Bartok and Stravinsky. His interest in classical music and in jazz, and the influences
these genres had on his tangos stirred considerable controversy among the traditionalists
in the world of tango.
In 1953 one of Piazzolla’s compositions won the first prize in a competition and his composition was performed by the State Radio Symphony in Buenos Aires. The prize included a scholarship from the French Government to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. Members of our audience may recall previous references to Nadia Boulanger
whose roster of students reads like a who’s who of twentieth century composers.
Initially he tried to hide his musical background, feeling that Boulanger would have little
regard for the tango and the bandoneón, but she encouraged him to find his own voice as
a composer and convinced him that these were a part of that voice. This was, essentially
the genesis for the “Tango Nuevo,” the new tango style that Piazzolla created.
The Cuatro Estaciónes Porteñas were composed for Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango Quintet, a
group that consisted of violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón. The
individual “seasons” were not conceived as a suite. They were composed at different
times and not in the same sequence as the actual progression of the calendar - Primavera
Porteña was written in 1970 and Verano Porteño in 1964. Though Piazzolla sometimes
performed them together, more often they were treated independently.
Piazzolla’s “seasons” are not programmatic like those of Vivaldi. They feature a fastslow-fast organization with a tremendous range of intensity between the furious excitement of the angular and highly rhythmic fast parts and the painful quiescence of the sustained and expressive slow sections. The adjective “painful” is chosen not as a commen-
tary on the quality of the music but because of the tango tradition that the slow music expresses the sentiments of tragic mood and pain.
Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Opus 95, From the New World – Antonín Dvořák (1841
– 1904)
Adagio; Allegro Molto
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Allegro con fuoco
Most of us tend to think of classical composers as remote and semi-godlike individuals,
certainly not the sort of people we encounter in our daily lives. This is likely the result of
childhood memories of plaster busts and pictures of men (almost certainly no women)
with long hair and ascetic faces and stories about their struggles to create high art in a
world full of obstacles. But Antonín Dvořák wasn’t like that. He was a normal, happy
and well-adjusted individual, a devout Catholic and happily married with children. His
greatest passion beyond music and his family was learning about and watching trains and
steam locomotives.
In 1892, Dvořák came to the United States. Though he had been quite satisfied with his
position as a professor at the conservatory in Prague, he was offered a huge salary increase to teach at the American Conservatory in New York City. Professionally, his stay
in this country was quite successful but, like all who truly love their homelands he became homesick, and it was a consequence of this homesickness that gives Iowans a special bond with Dvořák – he visited northeast Iowa’s Czech community of Spillville. During the summer of 1893, the entire Dvořák family, Antonín, his wife Anna and their six
children, stayed in Spillville and found the small Czech-speaking town a pleasant respite
from the urban clangor of New York. Though it is likely that the New World Symphony
was actually composed primarily in New York, the premiere did not occur until after
Dvořák’s sojourn in Spillville and many Iowans, like to think that the Symphony’s final
touches were completed in Iowa and influenced by it’s congenial surroundings. Spillville
today, treasures its Dvořák connection and the house where he stayed has become a museum dedicated to the composer.
Dvořák’s intention was to give the Symphony an American “flavor” without actually
quoting any existing American tunes and he hoped to show American composers how the
“raw material” of American music could be transformed into true symphonic music in the
European tradition. He was influenced by ideas from American popular song, particularly the music of Stephen Foster, African-American spirituals and American Indian music though his sources for the latter were dubious and included Buffalo Bill’s Wild West
Show. Of particular importance to the Symphony’s “spirit,” was a non-musical influence, Longfellow’s poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which Dvořák had read in translation
many years earlier and which he had recently considered as the basis for an opera.
The Symphony’s first movement, Adagio, Allegro Molto, begins with very slow and
somber sounds in the low strings presaging the forceful horn theme that begins the Al-
legro. If one were called upon to characterize Dvořák’s music with just one adjective it
would have to be melodious and the first movement does not disappoint in this respect.
Following the horn theme, the flutes and oboe play a tune that pleasingly twists and turns
upon itself. The flute alone plays the next theme, a theme that recalls the spiritual Swing
Low Sweet Chariot. The three themes are developed both individually and together with
increasing excitement until, after a reprise of the opening, the movement concludes with
an exultant coda.
A breathtakingly beautiful series of chords in the brass and low winds begins the second
movement. The principal theme of this Largo is almost certainly the most famous part of
the Symphony, the tune having been given its own identity with the song title Going
Home. Many have come to view this theme as an expression of Dvořák’s longing for his
homeland of Bohemia. Others associate it with the Song of Hiawatha and varyingly suggest that it portrays Hiawatha’s courtship of Minnehaha, the countryside through which
Hiawatha and Minnehaha traveled, or Minnehaha’s funeral. Whatever Dvořák had in
mind, this theme’s simplicity and the plaintive sound of the English horn place it high in
the pantheon of the loveliest melodies in classical music. The movement ends with a reiteration of the exquisite chords with which it began.
There is no doubt about Dvořák’s inspiration for the Scherzo movement whose witty introduction is often compared to the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Ninth. In an interview with
the New York Herald, Dvořák stated that that this movement was inspired by the dance of
Pau-Puk-Keewis in Longfellow’s poem. The music has varying moods, sometimes exuberant, sometimes lyrical. The energy of the “dance” is interrupted by a song-like interlude and a reference to the first movement introduces the dance-like trio.
The Allegro con fuoco finale is a melodic feast. In addition to the themes original to the
movement, Dvořák brings back “recollections” from previous movements and builds a
dramatic mood of darkness and intensity. The lovely pianissimo chords that introduced
the Largo are now fortissimo and seem to evoke a sense of tragedy. The music becomes
more and more fragmented until at last the first theme returns bringing cohesiveness and
a final accelerating rush leads to the Symphony’s conclusion.
The New World Symphony’s premiere was given on December 16, 1893 in Carnegie Hall
by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Anton Seidl. The Symphony was immediately successful and Dvořák received a great deal of adulation both in the United States
and in Bohemia. The Symphony today remains a staple of the symphonic repertoire and
there are no signs that Iowa will lose its classical music “bragging rights” anytime soon.