On Re-Composition: Max Richter Meets Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons

The German-English composer Max Richter had a cool idea: re-write the score to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Not a remix exactly, but rather a getting inside the piece and messing around with its materials. Richter calls the process “re-composition” and his piece is called Recomposed.

The Italian composer, violinist, and priest Antonio Vivaldi wrote The Four Seasons in 1723. The piece is a set of concertos for solo violin, string quartet, and basso continuo instrument. There are four movements in all and each is intended to reflect its respective namesake season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). With its sense of order, its emotionality, its often upbeat feel and urgent lean, The Four Seasons is possibly the best known and loved piece of Baroque music ever. Here is the piece, parts of which you have probably heard before, somewhere or other:

Richter chose Vivaldi’s warhorse as a starting point for Recomposed, which is essentially a new version of an old piece. Why The Four Seasons? For one thing, it’s a beloved work of music that even the most casual music listener knows–or doesn’t even realize she knows! For another thing, perhaps the music has something very modern about it in its ordered and repeating melodies and its insistent, chugging-along rhythms. This stylistic quality resonated with Richter’s post-minimalism sensibility. As he observes in a video about his re-composing Vivaldi’s work:

“The Vivaldi is a kind of pattern-based music. And it almost reminds me a little bit of systems music–kind of minimal music from the 60s and 70s. And that kind of locks into the kind of thing I do anyway (…) I’ve looked at [The Four Seasons] from my perspective–which is the perspective of someone who’s heard minimal music, electronics, who’s heard post-rock. So I brought me in 2012 to that piece.”

To re-write Vivaldi’s music, Richter describes his process as working “with the alchemy of the material itself.” Sitting down at the piano with the Seasons score, Richter went through it and chose his “favorite bits and kind of turning those up, and making new objects out of those.”

The result is a new renovated species of Seasons. Some sections sound a lot like Vivaldi’s, while others sound like they’ve been chopped up and put into a sampler, with little bits repeating more insistently as if someone put them on Loop Mode. Richter also adds new bass pedal tones which gives the music an almost pop music hue. As a YouTube commenter named sigoog notes, the re-composed Vivaldi has an emotional “cinematic sense.”

This gets at an interesting effect of Richter’s Recomposed: It’s like putting the sonic gestures and codes of classical music in a display case where we can study their effects from different angles. At root, Recomposed is a kind of dissection of a past musical style through the prism of the present.

Here are my two favorite sections, Spring 1 and Winter 3

And here is a video on the making of Recomposed:

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