Tag Archives: Vivaldi

A Flute for All Seasons

Classical music has a long history of instrument-swapping. Lute tunes transcribed for guitar. Harpsichord pieces performed on piano. Since guitars and pianos are easier to come by these days than lutes or harpsichords, this is a good thing for modern performers.

Sometimes it’s clear the transcription is simply to allow a performer to indulge in a work written for an instrument other than the one the play. Wynton Marsalis playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” on trumpet comes to mind.

One of the first compact discs I bought when they became commonly available was Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” which had long been a favorite of mine. Rather than the traditional violin, this was arranged for flute and performed by James Galway.

It’s a very different sound, of course, and Galway makes it work. The flute isn’t quite as delicate as a violin can be, but a skilled flutist can make us forget that during the peaceful movements. When winter arrives, though, it seems to have been written for the instrument. The biting winds of winter are colder in a flute than a violin.

I no longer own that copy. These days, my favorite recording of the Seasons is Lorin Maazel’s arrangement and performance on the traditional instrument.

But when winter comes, I always miss the flute.

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Four Seasons

One of the first pieces of classical music I was exposed to was Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. We didn’t have a lot of classical music at home when I was a child, so my exposure started later than, say, Irish folk music or Roger Miller.

There are eleventy-leven versions of Vivaldi’s most famous work, but the one that works for me is led by the insuperable Lorin Maazel. After experiencing this rendition, any other seems slightly mistimed; rushed, dragging, improperly syncopated, cadenzas which are frantic rather than energetic.

Maazel’s conducting envelopes each movement in the appropriate season’s textures, sensations, aromas, and sounds. I hear bugs flitting past during ‘Summer'; the flutter of leaves in ‘Autumn'; the rush of the wind in ‘Winter’, and the trickle of a nearby stream in ‘Spring.’

Vivaldi’s work, and especially this piece, and more especially this recording of it, invariably reduces my stress levels and reminds me that some things, unlike stress, are timeless.

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