Celebrate the season (s) | Music


Interpretation of Antonio Vivaldi The four Seasons is appropriate any time of year, representing spring, summer, fall, and winter, in that order. For Santa Fe Pro Musica, winter is the time, with concerts on Wednesday December 29 and Thursday December 30, featuring this famous ensemble of violin concertos.

These are not just general evocations of the seasons. Working only with stringed instruments, Vivaldi has created incredibly specific musical portraits of the weather, the animal world, and human activity at each time of the year.

They include several carefully differentiated species of birds, midges and flies that buzz around the head, thunderstorms and hailstorms, drunken harvest festivities, and the possibility of slipping and falling on ice, to name but one. only a few of the effects. Sometimes Vivaldi wrote notations to describe the effect he wanted, such as a direction for the violas to sound like “a barking dog” at some point.

The four Seasons is one of the earliest examples of program music, in which a story, idea or object is conveyed without the use of words. Composer Franz Liszt coined the term, and program music is most closely associated with the Romantic era. Its roots go back to the Renaissance, however, with the song “La Bataille” by Clément Janequin which dates from around 1530 and describes the battle of Marignano between the French and the Swiss, one of the earliest examples.

The concertos that make up The four Seasons are brilliant music on an absolute level too, and the job of bringing them to life here falls on violinist and conductor Colin Jacobsen, a favorite collaborator of Santa Fe bands. For this concert he is featured as the leader , instead of conductor, reflecting the practice of the Baroque era in which orchestras were conducted by their first violin. (The first independent conductors appeared in the 1820s, as orchestras began to grow in size and complexity.)

“The communication is so immediate and straightforward that way,” says Jacobsen. “You show intention, gesture and physicality with a bow and an instrument; someone waving their arms can only make an approximation of it. It’s a very democratic kind of music because I have to live what I ask others to do.

The music of Bach, Vivaldi, and their contemporaries is sometimes considered highly mechanical, made by a contrapuntal sewing machine sewing notes together in identical patterns, but for Jacobsen this is far from the case. “It was a very theatrical time,” he said, “and baroque music takes you out of the primitive and appropriate mode for the good of the theater, so it’s really fun.

“I studied in Amsterdam for a year and the Dutch word for musician literally translates to ‘painter of tones’. I like this idea, that with our bows and our imaginations, we should paint a picture in the service of the whimsy of the pieces, rather than just be indebted to the notes printed on the page.

Georg Philipp Telemann’s Burlesque by Don Quixote, which is also on the program, is much less famous than The four Seasons, but it’s just as great a piece of program music. Telemann was a very cosmopolitan composer and lover of literature. He owned a copy of Miguel de Cervantes’ great novel and used it as the subject of a serenate (a hybrid of opera and cantata), as well as for burlesque.

At this point in musical history, the term burlesque meant parody, usually with serious and comedic elements juxtaposed. For this 16-minute piece, Telemann wrote a French overture (a slow start in a sharp rhythm, then a fast and lively section), followed by performances of seven famous scenes from the novel.

They begin with Quixote awakening, bowing against the windmills and falling in love with the earthy peasant Aldonza, whom he exalts as Princess Dulcinea. Sancho Panza is thrown into the air for not paying for their stay in an inn, followed by the galloping pace of Quixote’s broken-down horse and the braying of his servant’s donkey. Quixote then falls asleep to dream of more chivalrous adventures.

The concert program also includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in D minor for two violins, with Stephen Redfield joining Jacobsen as soloist.


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