“Summer” from Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi—The Four Seasons

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            Max Richter, a British citizen, born in Germany, is an internationally renowned composer, recognized for his prolific artistic imagination and adroit blending of classical and popular musical styles and elements.   He received a traditional music education, attending the Royal Academy of Music, and studied for a time with the giant of the avant garde in music, Lucio Berio (perhaps you may remember the latter’s choral vocal clusters in the soundtrack of the movie 2001:  A Space Odyssey).  Richter has been a most busy composer, composing works for ballet, the movies, opera, the theatre, and television--and as a performing artist, as well.  He seamlessly blends electronic music, recorded sounds, and other effects—whatever is available to sustain his remarkable musical ingenuity. Just the citation of a few of his successful works is evidence of the variety of his musical imagination:  elements of the score to the film, Shutter Island; an opera based upon the writings of a neuroscientist; a chamber work for strings, piano, and electronics based upon telephone ring tones; and an eight-hour long composition entitled Sleep, influenced by the symphonies of Gustav Mahler.           

            Recomposed by Max Richter:  Vivaldi—The Four Seasons was given its world première in 2012 in London, and soon went to top of the charts of classical music in both the UK and the US. The conceit of the piece, while seemingly totally new is sound and concept, is nevertheless based on one of the most essential and time-honored of principle in art:  the manipulation of elements of previous works by others to create new works, but grounded in, and preserving much of the identity of the antecedents.  Museums are replete with painting, sculptures, drawings, collages, and much else that are founded in this principle.  So, in Recomposed by Max Richter:  Vivaldi—The Four Seasons, the composer takes the traditional orchestra and violin soloist, Vivaldi’s textures, his arpeggios, his harmonies, his tempi—everything!—but re-arranges and juxtaposes all that is familiar to create a new work that is so different, yet so derivative.   For example, you’ll hear Vivaldi’s chords, but in Richter’s use, they go to different places, or seemingly to no place at all.   The extreme directionality of Baroque harmony is replaced with the Post-Modern “floating,” static ambiguity.  And the same with Vivaldi’s melodies—they’re there, but now with a languid repetition.  Richter has adroitly adopted much of the techniques of electronic music—looping, phasing, and layering—to a real Baroque orchestra and soloist.  The result is much more than one would expect:  a marvelous evocation of the original work and its contemporary style, but reduced to micro elements, re-assembled, juxtaposed, in the best techniques of collage art.  It’s truly Vivaldi without structure, but honored as in a dream.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2018 William E. Runyan