Posted in Project 3: A Bach Chorale

Research Point 3.2: A Review of Vivaldi Recomposed by Max Richter.

The aim of this research point is to write a 400-word review of a recording of Vivaldi Recomposed, looking into contextual information regarding both the original and the recomposed renditions and their creators. In total, this post is substantially longer, being around 1000 words. Before I delve more concretely into the task, it might be good to begin with a note on the classical music recording and publishing label Deutsche Grammophon (Fig. 1), whose 2014 reissue version of the piece I’ve listened to and selected for this task. Interestingly, the label came up with the idea to reinterpret musical classics, naming the series Recomposed. The production began by inviting different contemporary artists to create their own rendering of iconic works in the canon, giving dance and electronica musicians access to their catalogue. (Smith, 2010) However, while the previous invitees reworked the classics by using catalogue recordings as samples, mostly remixing or creating hypertextual translations, Max Richter, who was classically trained, chose to quite literally provide a full recomposition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons directly from the score. It is only on top of this rewriting, which filtered the original notation through the postmodern and minimalist lens, that Richter adds a touch of light electronics. As such, Vivaldi Recomposed is unique in its blend of the old and new notation, live and prerecorded performance.

Fig. 1. Deusche Grammophon label logo

Having said that, the original composition The Four Seasons is one of Vivaldi’s (Fig. 2) most famous works, and even one of the most beloved Baroque pieces to the contemporary audiences. In its time, it was unusually coupled with accompanying sonnets, perhaps written by the composer himself, standing as one of the earliest examples of program music. The Four Seasons consists of four concerti: Spring in E major, Summer in G minor, Autumn in F major and Winter in F minor. Relating to the texts of the poems, where each sonnet is broken into three sections, each concerti has three movements ordered fast-slow-fast. In the spirit of the poetic lines, the music is evocative of natural sounds, ranging from creeks, birds, a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, storms, drunken dancers, hunting parties, frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires.

Fig. 2. A portrait of Antonio Vivaldi (Anon, 1723)

The popularity of this cycle of concerti is today expressed in its passages being used in radio, television, film and advertising. Max Richter (Fig. 3) recounted his own experience of the composition’s prevalence in different media and how this spurred his re-engagement with the score:

“When I was a young child I fell in love with Vivaldi’s original, but over the years, hearing it principally in shopping centres, advertising jingles, on telephone hold systems and similar places, I stopped being able to hear it as music; it had become an irritant… So I set out to try to find a new way to engage… by writing through it anew, similarly to how scribes once illuminated manuscripts – and thus rediscovering it for myself.” (2014, cited in Classic FM)

Fig. 3. Max Richter

In creating what he called the ‘new trip through the landscape of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons’, Richter mentions in the same interview how he wanted to honour the material’s musical language, without giving it too strong of a modernist imprint. Indeed, listening to Deutsche Grammophon’s 2014 Vivaldi Recomposed is experiencing a type of postmodern rescoring that honors the original material. Although three quarters of the original has been discarded, Richter retains the basic shape of the three-movement concerti, with a process that transcends the empty and cold mechanical manipulation of prerecorded music in order to keep the heart and human voice of Vivaldi’s segments. As such, Vivaldi Recomposed is not a simple deconstruction garnished with hollow looping, phasing and dissembling so that the original material loose their character, but an attentive refashioning and reconfiguration of carefully selected musical extracts, integrated into the fabric of Richter’s own style with enough integrity to still speak for themselves. As Sanderson (n.d.) summerises: “The new material is suggestive of a dream state, where drifting phrases and recombined textures blur into walls of sound, only to re-emerge with stark clarity and poignant immediacy”, or in the words of Huizenga (2014), the composition becomes “lighter on its feet in places, darker and more cinematic in others.”

Indeed, the journey of Recomposed’s revisitation fluctuates between these states. The light, joyful Spring 1 abruptly ends to lead into Spring 2‘s deep emotive atmosphere, only to seamlessly return to the jumpy radiance with more urgency in Spring 3, suddenly stopping mid-gradation. These precipitate terminations are present throughout and each occurrence leaves the listener breathless. The other seasons are similarly structured, the dramatic Summer 1 leads into the touching Summer 2, culminating in the electrifying tension of Summer 3‘s storm, whose intensity fades into the dark undertones of gloomy bass electronics, punctuated only with barely audible wind-chime-like sounds. Autumn 1 returns to illumination alternated with some contemplative moments, as Autumn 2‘s sentimental mood is adorn with tragic nuances of seemingly aimless repetition that find resolution only in the approaching of Autumn 3, which revives the springiness heard at the beginning of the composition. Winter 1‘s ghostly dissonances march forward into solo violin’s agitated flourishes, while Winter 2 brings a consolidating stasis and the progression in Winter 3 turns into a powerful conclusion. But perhaps even more powerful are the sections from the Shadows coda, which slowly bring the listener back to a new kind of reality with electronic soundscapes, in which The Four Seasons echo at the edge of perception. 

Striking the perfect balance, Vivaldi Recomposed successfully captures the attention of both the new and old generations, and both the classical music lovers attached to tradition and the popular music enthusiasts used to modernist remixes, sampling, and sound collages. Furthermore, the humane nucleus of the recompositional process is fortified by Andre de Ridder’s superb conducting and the delightful performance of violinist Daniel Hope and Konzerthaus Berlin orchestra. With this in mind, the 2014 reissue captures the profound depth and generosity by which Richter approached Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, distancing it from being a mere fragmented accompaniment to the contemporary culture and media.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed listening to the piece and writing about Richter’s undertaking of recomposing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. While I was quite acquainted with the original, having played some sections myself when I studied violin, as well as encountering it countless of times in the media, it was refreshing to be able to experience the familiar tunes in a new light. The Recomposed version also provides an important ethos when treating another composer’s work – one I would follow if I were ever brave enough to touch another person’s musical material, let alone dare to approach a legendary composition from the classical canon. 

List of illustrations:

References:

Classic FM (2014) How I Wrote… Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Recomposed – Max Richter. [blog post] At: https://www.classicfm.com/composers/richter/news/vivaldi-recomposed-interview/

Huizenga, T. (2013) Max Richter In Concert: Reimagining Vivaldi. [blog post] At: https://www.npr.org/2013/02/07/171307782/max-richter-in-concert-reimagining-vivaldi?t=1570364109627

Sanderson, B. (n.d.) Review. [blog post] https://www.allmusic.com/album/recomposed-by-max-richter-vivaldi-the-four-seasons-mw0002414180

Smith, S. (2010) Recomposed by Matthew Herbert: Mahler Symphony X. [blog post] At: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/arts/music/26herbert.html (Accessed 1st Oct 2019)

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