THE SAINT PAUL CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Joshua Bell, violin
VIVALDI The Four Seasons
PIAZZOLLA The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
VIVALDI The Four Seasons (Le quattro Stagioni), for Violin, Strings, and Basso Continuo (ca. 1715)
The Four Seasons (Le quattro Stagioni), for Violin, Strings, and Basso Continuo (ca. 1715)
ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Antonio Vivaldi’s 500-plus concertos feature an astonishing variety of instruments, often for the musically adventurous young ladies of the Venetian foundling institution where he taught music on and off over a period of nearly four decades. Others he crafted for his personal use as a touring violin virtuoso.
While he doubtless wrote the set of four violin concertos popularly known as The Four Seasons to reflect his own technical facility, it was also destined for a distant patron, the Bohemian Count Wenzel von Morzin, whom he served in absentia for many years as “Music Master in Italy.” These are the first four concertos in a collection of 12, published in Amsterdam as Vivaldi’s Op. 8, the entire collection being presented under the title Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Trial of Harmony and Invention) and bearing an ornate letter of dedication to the Count. “Pray do not be surprised,” he writes, “if, among these few and feeble concertos, Your Most Illustrious Lordship finds the Four Seasons which have so long enjoyed the indulgence of Your Most Illustrious Lordship’s kind generosity.” Those four pieces were clearly not new when they were published; the Count would have known them from manuscript copies Vivaldi had sent previously. The composer continues by noting that he has updated them by adding “sonnets, a very clear statement of all the things that unfold in them, so that I am sure they will appear new to you.”
As literary specimens of Italian Baroque sonnets, the poems are not very impressive. That, combined with the fact that they display some linguistic usages that point to Venetian dialect, suggests that Vivaldi may have written them himself. Even without the sonnets attached, it would have been evident that the four concertos were illustrative, since their character changes markedly, often many times within an individual movement. The sonnets provide the key to interpreting their “program.” In the original edition, they appear at the beginning of the solo violin part, and lines from them are also interlaced within the musical notation to show exactly which poetic descriptions relate to which musical phrases.
Although the Op. 8 collection appears to mostly assemble pre-existing pieces grouped together in arbitrary fashion, the first four concertos obviously stand as a unit. The Four Seasons became hugely popular as soon as they were published, particularly in France. They became fixtures of Parisian concert life and their music was even adapted for other settings, such as Michel Corrette’s 1765 motet Laudate dominum, which bizarrely assigns a Psalm text to the Spring concerto.
PIAZZOLLA/ DESYATNIKOV The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires (Las cuatro estaciones porteñas), for Violin and String Orchestra (1965-70)
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (Las cuatro estaciones porteñas), for Violin and String Orchestra (1965-70)
ASTOR PIAZZOLLA (1921-92)
Arranged by LEONID DESYATNIKOV (1999)
Verano porteño (Summer in Buenos Aires) (1965)
Otoño porteño (Autumn in Buenos Aires) (1970)
Invierno porteño (Winter in Buenos Aires) (1970)
Primavera porteña (Spring in Buenos Aires) (1969)
Born in Argentina, Astor Piazzolla grew up in New York City, where his family moved in 1925. There, he learned to play the bandoneón, a concertina-accordion whose timbre instantly evokes the Argentine tango. (In deference to his Italian family heritage and American upbringing, he preferred that the double-“l” in his surname be sounded as the English “l,” rather than with the Spanish or Argentine pronunciation of the letter “ll,” that is, as a “y” or “zh.”) After returning to Argentina to perform with popular ensembles, he formed his own tango orchestra in 1946 and began his career as a composer. That year he wrote his first tango, the genre in which he would make an important mark.
In 1954, the renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger urged him to develop his language as a composer on a foundation of distinctly Argentine sound. “Up to then,” he recalled, “I had composed symphonies, chamber music, string quartets; but when Nadia Boulanger analyzed my music, she said she could find nowhere any Piazzolla. … So I threw away all the other music and, in 1954, started working on my New Tango.”
During the 1960s and ’70s, Piazzolla appeared most widely with his Quintet, which was made up of piano, bandoneón, violin, electric guitar, and double bass. In 1965, he returned to Buenos Aires from a tour the day before a session where the Quintet was to record his original incidental music for an upcoming theatrical production. He had forgotten about the project, but he penned the requisite pieces overnight. One of the movements became the standalone work Verano porteño (Summer in Buenos Aires). In Argentine usage, the adjective porteño refers to Buenos Aires. He later wrote three further “Seasons”—Spring in 1969, Autumn and Winter in 1970.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons were then enjoying resurgent popularity, and Piazzolla made a discreet bow to them, structuring each of his “Seasons” in a tripartite, fast-slow-fast form (without breaks between sections) and even including some melodic allusions. When Leonid Desyatnikov (b.1955) arranged the suite for solo violin with string orchestra in 1999, he expanded on that aspect, incorporating into his arrangement 15 quotations of varying lengths that intensify the link between Piazzolla’s pieces and Vivaldi’s. He mostly inserts his Vivaldian borrowings into the “opposite” season—for example, bits from Vivaldi’s Spring end up in Piazzolla’s Autumn, ideas from Vivaldi’s Summer enter Piazzolla’s Winter, and so on. This is quite logical since the characters of the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere (like Argentina) are opposite from what they are in the Northern Hemisphere (like Venice).
With a career spanning more than 30 years, chamber musician, recording artist and conductor, Academy of St Martin in the Fields Music Director Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of his era.
With a career spanning more than 30 years as a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist and conductor, Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of his era. An exclusive Sony Classical artist, he has recorded more than 40 CDs garnering Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone and Echo Klassik awards, and is a recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize, as well as the Lumiere Prize for his work in the sphere of Virtual Reality. Named the Music Director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 2011, he is the only person to hold this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958, and recently renewed his contract through 2020. In 2016, Sony released Bell’s album For the Love of Brahms with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk, followed in 2017 by the Joshua Bell Classical Collection, a 14 CD set of Bell’s Sony recording highlights from the past 20 years.
Summer 2017 saw Joshua Bell perform at the BBC Proms with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Verbier Festival, as Artist In Residence at the Edinburgh International Festival and – in the US - at Tanglewood, Ravinia, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. In the 2017/18 season in the US, Bell takes part in the New York Philharmonic’s celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial, performing Bernstein’s Serenade led by Alan Gilbert, and also appears with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra among others. His North American recital tours take him to Carnegie Hall, Chicago’s Symphony Center and Washington D.C.’s Strathmore Center. Highlights in Europe include appearances as soloist with the Vienna Symphony and Danish National Symphony; as director and soloist with the Orchestre National de Lyon; and recitals in Paris, Zurich, Geneva, Bologna, Milan and London. With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields he will tour widely including in the United Kingdom, United States and Europe, featuring performances in London, New York, San Francisco, Reykjavik and at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.
Convinced of the value of music as a diplomatic and educational tool, Bell participated in President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities’ first cultural mission to Cuba. He is also involved in Turnaround Arts, another project implemented by the Committee and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts which provides arts education to low-performing elementary and middle schools.
Joshua Bell performs on the 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin and uses a late 18th century French bow by François Tourte.
Photo: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
Grammy and Juno Award winning Bramwell Tovey, “the very model of a modern orchestral maestro” (Montecristo Magazine), shares the stage with Bravo! favorite Augustin Hadelich, declared “one of the outstanding violinists of his generation” (New York Times) and “technically and musically impeccable” (Washington Post).