A Seasonal Journey Through Time

This October, northern and southern hemispheres collide as Auckland Philharmonia’s Baroque & Beyond series takes on Vivaldi’s ageless portrait of the seasons juxtaposed against a Piazzolla one, illuminating both in surprising ways.

Everybody knows and loves Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) collection of four short violin concertos, The Four Seasons. Do they even need an introduction? It feels like they’ve become a familiar friend, popping up everywhere in everyday life – especially as they’ve featured in more soundtracks than I care to count, from The Simpsons and Ted Lasso to John Wick and Pretty Woman.

The pieces themselves were ground-breaking for their time, particularly in that each movement had accompanying lines of poetry. This made the Seasons an early example of program music (music with narrative or descriptive elements) long before the popularity of program music really took off in the Romantic music of the 19th century.

Listen for example to the lilting solo violin evoking the cold, howling wind and the rhythmic stamping of frozen feet in Winter’s first movement.

Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one's icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.

Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Winter mvt I

Compare this with the warmth of the second movement, complete with pizzicato raindrops on the window.

To rest contentedly beside the hearth,
While those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

Vivaldi - The Four Seasons: Winter mvt II

Fast forward to the 20th century and the Argentine King of the Tango, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). Born in Mar del Plata not far from Buenos Aires, he melded traditional Argentinian tango with jazz, Bach, Stravinsky and a madly diverse range of other influences. His resulting ‘tango nuevo’ style was controversial, but wildly popular.

Unlike Vivaldi, Piazzolla didn’t sit down intending to depict all four seasons in music from start to finish, but followed a slightly more haphazard, organic timeline. Verano (Summer) was written first in 1965 as incidental music for a play. It was four more years until he wrote Invierno (Winter) in 1969, which was also conceived of as a standalone composition, and eventually, he completed the set of all four seasons in 1970, performed occasionally together as the extraordinary tangos Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas or Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Piazzolla’s preferred performance order – Otoño (Autumn), Invierno (Winter), Primavera (Spring), Verano (Summer) – was also different to Vivaldi’s order of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

In the 1990s, a new arrangement for string orchestra and solo violin was created by Leonid Desyatnikov that gently and cleverly leaned into paralleling Piazzolla’s seasons with Vivaldi’s. Desyatnikov converted each movement of the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas into three parts, mirroring the traditional three-movement concerto structure used by Vivaldi. He also subtly inserted quotations from Vivaldi’s Seasons, but accounted for the composers being from different hemispheres – meaning aspects of Vivaldi’s Winter can be heard in Piazzolla’s Verano (Summer). About a minute in, you’ll hear that very same howling winter wind on the solo violin.

Piazzolla arr. Desyatnikov - Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas: Verano porteño (Summer)

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