And we got a virtuoso to play it for us
How do you make Vivaldi's popular masterpiece sound fresh? Composer Max Richter explains the motivation behind his brilliant re-working, 'Recomposed', which enables listeners to hear The Four Seasons with new ears.
Composer: Max Richter
Piece: The Four Seasons Recomposed
Date written: Some time in Winter 2011
In a sentence or less, how would you describe the music to someone who's never heard it before?
The work is a new trip through the landscape of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons.
How did the idea for the piece come about?
When I was a young child I fell in love with Vivaldi's original, but over the years, hearing it principally in shopping centres, advertising jingles, on telephone hold systems and similar places, I stopped being able to hear it as music; it had become an irritant - much to my dismay! So I set out to try to find a new way to engage with this wonderful material, by writing through it anew - similarly to how scribes once illuminated manuscripts - and thus rediscovering it for myself. I deliberately didn't want to give it a modernist imprint but to remain in sympathy and in keeping with Vivaldi's own musical language.
Did you have a musical 'EUREKA!' moment where everything fell into place, or did the piece gradually shift and change over time?
Composing is a whole series of little Eurekas but also what we might call Anti-Eurekas. Somewhere in the collision between these the music starts to happen and take its shape. The key thing for me to figure out when navigating through this material was just how much Vivaldi and how much Me was happening at any point - three quarters of the notes in the new score are mine, but that is not the whole story - Vivaldi's DNA is omnipresent in the work and trying to take that into account at all times was the key challenge for me.
Is there a musical moment in the piece you're most proud of?
I'm happy with the way Winter 3 turned out - the sense of falling that this music has and the way that you can listen into the texture. There is deliberately more going on in the music than we can hear at any one time: the searching solo line, the various descending upper orchestral string lines, the lower chorale-like material - we cannot take it in as a whole, but, like a landscape, we can explore it bit by bit, listening in to its various surfaces. I personally enjoy music that allows that sort of interaction.
What's been your favourite performance of the music?
When we first started to put it together with the Konzerthaus Chamber Orchestra in Berlin - the first time is always special...
If you could hear anyone admit they're a huge fan of the piece, who would it be?
If you had to compose it again, what would you change?
I'm not sure. I think the way you navigate through a work is very much the product of that moment in time. Other days bring other ideas and you never really know how a piece will develop until you start work.
Where was the premiere and how did you feel hearing the piece for the first time?
It was a really exciting evening. Daniel Hope and The Britten Sinfonia really nailed it and The Barbican was full. It doesn't get better than that.