Posts Tagged ‘The Four Seasons’


April 13, 2019

In chapter 18 of King of Soul, we encounter one exploration of how music arises from human life.

In the year 1969, Professor Victor Komienko explains to his Music Appreciation class how a certain kind of music may arise:

“The University is the Defender of  high standards in all of the arts; music is no exception. In the slings and arrows of outrageous  intrusion, the best standards of the ages are maintained at the Conservatory, or as we have here, the University. This is a college where the fundamentals of performance are passed on to the next generation of musicians, and where time-tested principles of effective composition are taught. At the same time, the Conservatory—or  University—retains and extends those foundations, so that appropriately innovative works can be brought forth.” Dr. Komienko looked up to the top row of the auditorium; he surveyed his class purposefully from the top row down. The baton in his hand tapped out a quick little rhythm on the podium.

“Do you have any questions so far?”

Teddy, halfway up the center aisle, raised his hand.

“Mr. Scher, of course you would have a question.”

“How do you feel about electrified instruments?”

“You are asking about electric guitars?”

“Yes, sir.”

“As you know, electric guitars have a high profile in contemporary popular music. As for their use in the classical legacy, we have not yet seen it. I will say, however, there is an indirect influence insofar as some of the big jazz bands of the 1930’s, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.  The electric guitar, used primarily as a rhythm instrument, has become a standard part of their jazz arrangements.

“George Gershwin has included in some of his compositions rhythms and melodic figures that originate with the Negro music, which has been brought over, as we know, from Africa. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue is the most notable example of this influence. The sound of the electric guitar itself, as an instrument, has not yet been heard to any extent that I know of.

“Traditionally, the guitar, unamplified as an acoustic instrument, has found an honorable place in the classical repertoire, most notably in the works of Spanish composers such as Segovia, and  Rodrigo.”

Teddy Scher raised his hand again.

“Yes?” Dr. Komienko responded, with a slightly disconcerted tone.

“Have you heard that the London Symphony has performed with the Moody Blues?”

“I have heard that they have done that. I have not heard any of the recordings. Thank you, Mr. Scher, for bringing that to my attention. We must, however, move forward with our syllabus now. Today, we will listen to a selection from the Italian Baroque period, Vivaldi’s Summer movement of the Four Seasons.

“The composer wrote notes to communicate to the orchestra the character of the music. In this case, Vivaldi had written a poem, which included the image of a shepherd boy being frightened by the fury of a thunderstorm. Vivaldi evokes, in the music, the fearsome effect of that storm. Additionally, he wrote at the top of this score—the piece you are about to hear—this musical instruction: Tempo Impetuoso. What does that tell you? Let’s listen to it, and perhaps  we will comprehend just what the composer was indicating by the use of that descriptor, Impetuoso. I do believe, Mr. Scher, that you will agree with me after hearing it, that, in some ways, Antonio Vivaldi was a forerunner of the rock music genre, which is driven, in its 20-th century heart, by that”—the professor raised his hands, indicating quotation marks with his fingers—’electric guitar you mention.’

“Of course, there were no electric guitars in Vivaldi’s day. However, in this case—the piece you are about to hear—I believe that same impetuous spirit of a present-day  lead guitarist was resident in a virtuoso  solo violinist of that day, whoever he might have been at the time.

“The violin concerto—commonly  called  Le Quattro Stagioni, or the Four Seasons—was originally named by Vivaldi, in 1725, as Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’ Invenzione , or translated, The Contest of Harmony and Invention. Perhaps, as you listen to this selection from it, you can surmise why the composer considered this work to represent a contest—or a sort of dual—between conventional notions of what music should be, as opposed to what music is as it is created and performed by the impetuous innovator—in this case, the soloist. Such  is the perennial contest, from age to age, between art that is generally acknowledged as appropriate and new art that is thought to be too disruptive.

“Now listen, and hear if you can, , the composer’s prescient gleaning of what music might become two and a half centuries later.  Arnold, please roll the tape. . .”

You will find one demonstration of this phenomenon here: 


King of Soul

The Lightning! the Thunder!

May 29, 2015

You know that feeling you get when you’re caught unprepared out in the open air, maybe in a field or a park, by a summer thunderstorm–

it’s a very sudden, primordial thrill.

The clouds have quickly moved in as if there’re taking over the world. In the space of a few minutes the sky turns dark and foreboding; billowing mounds of gray sky-madness roll up like war drums of weather. The wind kicks up and you can feel the barometric pressure dropping a mile a minute.  Dashing instinctually for cover, you are catapulted  into a mode of being that is primitive, as if your breathing life could at any moment be zapped into silent non-being.

Suddenly, time and the earth stand still for a moment while an unearthly presence splits the air, seizing control of everything all around: a flash.


A moment passes. Thunder! The earth trembles!

And a mere man is fear-stricken in shock and awe!

If you were a Neanderthal, you’d feel the dark sky-spirit hang momentarily upon your very life like a death-weight around your neck;

or an ancient Viking– suspended in the midst of a fiery Thor visitation;

or like Elihu of ancient days, who later spoke to his friend Job of such fearful moments:

“At this my heart trembles, and leaps from its place.

Listen closely to the thunder of His voice,

and the rumbling that goes out from His mouth.

Under the whole heaven He lets it loose, 

and His lightning to the ends of the earth.

After it, a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice,

and He does not restrain the lightnings when His voice is heard.

God thunders with His voice wondrously, 

doing great things which we cannot comprehend!”

Or, if you dare not admit to the God thing, and maintain your life studiously suspended in a calculated state of self-trained unbelief, then

you process all this dazzlingly extreme stimuli, arriving promptly at an analytical conclusion about what just happened, and you find yourself relieved that you have just emerged from a condition in which a luminous discharge of electric charges between clouds, and between clouds and earth, through which the path is found by the leader stroke, and the main discharge follows instantaneously along an ionized path,  followed by a crackling, booming or rumbling noise which accompanies the flash, and you understand inductively that the noise has its origins in the violent thermal changes accompanying the electrical discharge, which causes non-periodic wave disturbances in the air, and it may even seem that

all hell has broken loose!

Or, if you were the original rock musician, Antonio Vivaldi, translating, back in 1725 A.D., our mysterious storm-crossed experience into an electrifying concerto of stringed instruments performed through a notated snippet of music which you have named Summer, and prefaced the work upon the written score with these few lines of poetic explanation:

“The shepherd boy cries out, frightened of the storm and of his fate.

He stirs his weary limbs for fear of the ferocious lightning and swarms of gnats and flies.

Ah, his fears are all too justified, for thunder shakes the

heavens and breaks down the corn!”

Then your musically arranged memory of the event would feel something this:


Glass Chimera