Celebrating the season(s)

Left to right, leader and violinist Colin Jacobsen, photo Erin Baiano; Antonio Vivaldi; violinist Stephen Redfield

Performing Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is appropriate at any time of the year, depicting as it does spring, summer, autumn, and winter, in that order. For Santa Fe Pro Musica, winter is the time, with concerts on Wednesday, Dec. 29, and Thursday, Dec. 30, featuring this celebrated set of violin concertos.

They aren’t just general evocations of the seasons. Working with only the string instruments, Vivaldi crafted incredibly specific musical portraits of the weather, animal world, and human activity in each time of year.

They include several carefully differentiated species of birds, gnats, and flies buzzing around one’s head, thunderstorms and hailstorms, drunken harvest revelries, and the possibility of slipping and falling on the ice, to name just a few of the effects. At times, Vivaldi wrote annotations to describe the effect he wanted, such as a direction to the violas to sound like “a barking dog” at one point.

The Four Seasons is one of the earliest examples of program music, in which a story, an idea, or an object is conveyed without the use of words. Composer Franz Liszt coined the term, and program music is most closely associated with the Romantic era. Its roots go back as far as the Renaissance, however, with Clément Janequin’s chanson “The Battle,” which dates from around 1530 and describes the Battle of Marignano between the French and the Swiss, one of the earliest examples.

The concertos that make up The Four Seasons are also brilliant music at an absolute level, and the job of bringing them to life here falls to violinist and conductor Colin Jacobsen, a favorite collaborator with Santa Fe’s music groups. For this concert, he’s billed as leader, instead of conductor, reflecting the Baroque-era practice in which orchestras were led by their first violinist. (The first stand-alone conductors appeared in the 1820s, as orchestras started growing in size and complexity.)

“There’s such an immediacy and directness of communication this way,” Jacobsen says. “You’re showing the intent and the gesture and the physicality with a bow and an instrument; someone waving their arms can only approximate it. It’s a very democratic kind of music-making because I have to be living what I’m asking others to do.”

The music of Bach, Vivaldi, and their contemporaries is sometimes thought of as highly mechanical, manufactured by a contrapuntal sewing machine stitching together notes in identical patterns, but for Jacobsen, that’s far from the case. “It was a highly theatrical era,” he said, “and Baroque music gives you license to get out of the prim and proper mode for the sake of the theatrical, so that’s really fun.

“I studied in Amsterdam for a year and the Dutch word for musician literally translates as ‘tone painter.’ I love that idea, that with our bows and our imaginations we should be painting a picture in service of the fantasy of the pieces, rather than just being beholden to the notes printed on the page.”

Georg Philipp Telemann’s Burlesque de Don Quixote, which also appears on the program, is much less famous than The Four Seasons, but it’s just as brilliant a piece of program music. Telemann was a highly cosmopolitan composer and a lover of literature as well. He owned a copy of Miguel de Cervantes’ great novel and used it as the subject of a serenata (a hybrid of opera and cantata), as well as for the burlesque.

At this point in music history, the term burlesque meant parody, usually with serious and comic elements juxtaposed. For this 16-minute piece, Telemann wrote an overture in the French style (a slow beginning in a dotted rhythm, then a lively fast section), followed by depictions of seven famous scenes from the novel.

They begin with Quixote awakening, tilting against the windmills, and falling in love with the earthy peasant Aldonza, whom he exalts as Princess Dulcinea. Sancho Panza is thrown into the air for not paying for their stay at an inn, followed by the galumphing gait of Quixote’s broken-down horse and the braying of his servant’s donkey. Quixote then falls asleep to dream of more chivalric adventures.

The concert program also includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, with Stephen Redfield joining Jacobsen as a soloist. 

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.