I got on an elevator the other day and piping through a speaker was – you guessed it – Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.
On the way home, I stopped at Fresh Market to buy a few things for dinner, and trickling through the air was – you are correct again – The Four Seasons.
Not that I mind. Vivaldi’s ubiquitous set of violin concertos is pleasant enough to the ear. Like Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, Vivaldi is alive and well both inside and outside the concert hall, as snippets of their music put us at ease in an otherwise turbulent and noisy world.
But parts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – seem to have carte blanch wherever we turn: television commercials, phone alerts, department stores, restaurants. Ever been put on hold trying to speak to someone in the corporate world? Chances are, Vivaldi bides your time.
“The piece is so well known,’’ says Jeff Multer, concertmaster of The Florida Orchestra and featured violin soloist in this week’s performances of The Four Seasons under the baton of Music Director Michael Francis. “You hear Spring when you’re Christmas shopping at the mall or Summer when you’re on hold with customer service.’’
So, why is the music so pervasive? Well, for one, it’s free – Vivaldi published his most popular work in 1725, so nobody has to worry about paying royalties on a copyright. But it’s far more than that.
These four short concertos for violin and small orchestra are simple, clear, linear, uncluttered, effervescent and bursting with melody and color. You don’t need to know any backstory or bone up on your childhood music lessons. And for easy reference, each concerto has a name attached so you know that thunderstorm is from Summer and that ice storm belongs to Winter.
The Four Seasons is among more than 500 concertos Vivaldi composed, and it remains his trademark, a musical postcard of a year’s changing weather. Written in contrasting keys – E major, G minor, F major and F minor, respectively – the music is likeable and easy to whistle. That doesn’t mean, however, that the notes themselves aren’t testy.
“Bringing Vivaldi’s incredible tone painting to life is the challenge here,’’ Multer adds about his performances. “The violin writing is quite brilliant and demanding, as is the work the group of musicians has to accomplish together.’’
During this weekend’s program, Multer will try to block out the elevator, television and phone versions of Vivaldi. Live gigs must be real, and offer something to listeners that maybe, just maybe, they haven’t heard before.
“With all great masterpieces,’’ he said, “the balance is to bring a fresh take to it without sounding like you are trying to reinvent the wheel.’’