Reimagining Vivaldi

Concertmaster Mary Lee Kinosian is featured in Max Richter's recomposition of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

Guest Artist
Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian, violin


November 16, 2019
7:30 PM
Koger Center Get Tickets >

Can't take another moment of Vivaldi's ubiquitous Four Seasons? Neither could Max Richter, a London-based composer who deftly blurs the lines between the classical and electronic worlds. So instead of writing off the piece forever, Richter rewrote it. It sounds a little hipper — lighter on its feet in places, darker and more cinematic in others. Still, Richter's remodeled version retains the basic shape, and much of the spirit, of the master's original four violin concertos — each about ten minutes and in three movements, sequenced fast-slow-fast. (source: NPR)

Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian, violin, sponsored by Julie and Mike Brenan

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VIVALDI/MAX RICHTER The Four Seasons Recomposed
featuring Mary Lee Kinosian, violin

R. STRAUSS Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, op. 60

Program Notes


The Four Seasons                                                                                 
Antonio Vivaldi     
Recomposed by Max Richter                                                       

Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons are part of a group of eight violin concertos published in Amsterdam in 1725 as Op. 8. They are also among the earliest examples of program music: Vivaldi provided sonnets in Venetian dialect, probably his own, to head each of the four concertos.

In 2012, composer Max Richter, claiming to be one of a long list of composers who reworked pre-existing music, notably Franz Liszt, Igor Stravinsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, took on Vivaldi’s ubiquitous masterpiece. In an interview with NPR, Richter said: “As a child, I fell in love with it. It's beautiful, charming music with a great melody and wonderful colors. Then, later on, as I became more musically aware – literate, studied music and listened to a lot of music – I found it more difficult to love it. We hear it everywhere – when you're on hold, you hear it in the shopping center, in advertising; it's everywhere. For me, the record and the project are trying to reclaim the piece, to fall in love with it again."

The result is a minimalist transformation that leaves only fragments of the original music. Each of the twelve movements contains at least one recognizable quotation from the original, but they vary in length and nature from the famous virtuosic riffs for the solo violin to mere ostinato accompaniments. The fragments also include new, dissonant harmonies, distorted meters, loops and repetitive phrases. Richter notes, as have so many others, that Vivaldi was a master of repeated patterns (detractors call it “wallpaper music,”) and has easily adapted that feature to his own minimalist style.

In addition to Vivaldi’s original string chamber orchestra, Richter adds electronic components and loops: “I wanted certain moments to connect to the whole electronic universe that is so much part of our musical language today.”

A classically trained composer and pianist, Richter was born in 1966 in Hamelin, Germany, but raised in Britain. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Academy of Music, and in Italy with Luciano Berio. He has composed numerous film soundtracks, solo piano works, and ballets for the Royal Ballet.

Le bourgeois gentilhomme Suite, Op. 60                                            
Richard Strauss                                                                                                         

Max Reinhardt was one of the most celebrated producers in the early part of the twentieth century. One of his great successes was the Dresden premiere of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal wanted to thank Reinhardt for his efforts with a “little Molière affair” by creating a modern adaptation of the French dramatist’s comedy Le bourgeois gentilhomme. Molière’s comedy revolves around Monsieur Jourdain, an arriviste and a fool, whose vain attempts to acquire the trappings of the aristocracy run up against the marital goals of his daughter with Cléonte, her decent but middle-class suitor. 

Hofmannsthal reworked and shortened the text and Strauss composed music, much of it in the style of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) who had composed a comedie-ballet for the same play. The work turned out to be a little short for an evening’s entertainment and Hofmannsthal suggested adding a 30-minute opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, an unlikely mix of a typical eighteenth-century heroic-mythological figure and commedia dell’arte characters. The composite work, however, turned into a nearly six-hour-long unwieldy production that left everyone unhappy.

Strauss and Hofmannsthal then decided to separate the mismatched pair, completely revising Ariadne auf Naxos into a tragedy and harlequinade with a new commedia prologue. But the Le bourgeois gentilhomme part did not fare as well and did not find its way into the standard repertoire. It has survived mainly as the suite that Strauss adapted from it in 1918.

Although employing his own harmonic language, Strauss succeeded in capturing the mood and atmosphere of the seventeenth century by the use of traditional Baroque dances, delicate instrumentation and the use of continuo (in this case a piano, since the harpsichord revival was still in the future). The nine movements of the suite are:

1. Overture to Act I: Instead of the stately ouverture accompanying the entrance of Louis XIV at any entertainment, Strauss opens with a bustling theme associated with M. Jourdain in the original production. There follows a lyrical oboe melody.

2. Menuett – The Dancing Master: A true Baroque minuet with a twentieth-century flair accompanies M. Jourdain’s hilarious dancing lesson.

3. The Fencing Master: The polonaise meter, the trumpet flourishes and violin glissandi suggest posturing and flourishes with an epee rather than a real fencing match.

4. Entrance and Dance of the Tailors: A gavotte suggests the pompous tailors as they attend to M. Jourdain’s outlandish attire. A solo violin plays a waltz while M. Jourdain’s theme (bassoons and trombones) bumbles around in the background.

5. The Menuett of Lully: Solo oboe, flute, violin and cello are featured in this movement.

6. Courante: A solo violin and cello start off this dance in canonic form that adds more and more instruments.

7. Entrance of Cléonte (after Lully): Strauss borrowed Lully’s music for this movement, originally accompanying dialogue in the play.

8. Prelude to Act II. Another gavotte opens the Prelude. The gallant style has a whimsical quality about it, appropriately reminiscent of Strauss’s other delusional hero, Don Quixote.

9. The Dinner (Table Music and Dance of the Kitchen Boy): The finale is Strauss’s pièce de résistance, in which he crowns the satire with some musical jokes of his own. The solemn opening is meant to accompany the scene in which Cléonte disguises himself as the son of the Turkish sultan, thereby assuring M. Joudain’s consent to the marriage. The orchestration is that of the eighteenth-century Viennese imitation of Turkish Janissary bands. An inversion (upside down) of the Coronation March from Meyerbeer’s Le prophète announces the meal. The Rhine wine arrives to the briefest of quotes of Wagner’s “Rhine” Leitmotiv from the Ring of the Nibelungen. The next course, a rack of lamb, is heralded by the sheep passage from Don Quixote. The larks and thrushes course elicits another self-quote from a discussion on the topic from Act 1 of Der Rosenkavalier, plus a snatch of “La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto. And lest we forget that this is M. Jourdain’s party, his own theme rumbles throughout. The final exuberant waltz, danced by a kitchen boy bursting out of a cake, suggests Rosenkavalier but doesn’t quote it directly.

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