Deceptive Cadence
2:04 pm
Wed November 21, 2012

Max Richter Recomposes 'The Four Seasons'

Originally published on Wed November 21, 2012 3:57 pm

Composer Max Richter has done a brave thing for any artist in any medium: He's messed with a classic, specifically, Vivaldi's four violin concertos known as The Four Seasons. He has a new album simply titled Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons.

Richter says that as a child, he loved The Four Seasons. But as he grew older, that passion faded.

"As a child, I fell in love with it," he tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "It's beautiful, charming music with a great melody and wonderful colors. Then, later on, as I became more musically aware — literate, studied music and listened to a lot of music — I found it more difficult to love it. We hear it everywhere — when you're on hold, you hear it in the shopping center, in advertising; it's everywhere. For me, the record and the project are trying to reclaim the piece, to fall in love with it again."

The opening bars have been recorded, re-recorded and Muzak-ed to death. Richter's "recompositions" are both subtle and forward, and, in some cases, start a groove.

"I took the opening motif, which I always thought was a dazzling moment in the Vivaldi, but in the original it's only four bars. I thought, 'Well, why don't I just treat this like a loop, like something you might hear in dance music, and just loop it and intensify it, and cut and paste — jump-cut around in that texture, but keep that groove going."

There's a strain of classical music fan who gets frustrated with these kinds of recompositions or remixes. They argue that it's at worst a dumbing down of the music — and at best doesn't trust the music to stand on its own. Richter says he hasn't heard these sentiments expressed as much as he'd feared, and that it's been received quite well.

"I think it's been received in the spirit that I wrote it, which is, in a way, an act of love towards this fantastic masterpiece," Richter says. "And, you know, my piece doesn't erase the Vivaldi original. It's a conversation from a viewpoint. I think this is just one way to engage with it."

Richter did run into some difficulties in recomposing Vivaldi.

"The first thing that was sort of difficult — and I wasn't expecting this, actually — was trying to understand who I was at each moment of writing it," he says.

"That sounds a bit crazy, but in the piece, there are sections which are just Vivaldi, where I've left it alone. I've done sort of a production on 'Autumn,' but I've left the notes. And there other bits where there's basically only a homeopathic dose of Vivaldi in this completely new music," he says. "So I have to figure out how much Max and how much Vivaldi there was going on at every moment."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

We're going to hear now from composer Max Richter, who's done a brave thing for any artist in any medium: He's messed with a classic, in Richter's case, Vivaldi's four violin concertos known as "The Four Seasons."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SPRING")

CORNISH: Those opening bars have been recorded and re-recorded and Muzaked to death. Richter says as a child, he loved "The Four Seasons." But as he grew older, that passion faded.

MAX RICHTER: I sort of - I found it more difficult to love it, you know, because we hear it everywhere. You know, when you're on hold, you hear it in the shopping center, you hear it - just continuously, it's in advertising. It's everywhere.

CORNISH: So on his latest album, "Recomposed," Max Richter tried to rekindle that love by reimagining Vivaldi's masterwork.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SPRING 1")

RICHTER: For me, really, the record and project is just sort of trying to reclaim the piece, you know, to sort of fall in love with it again by sort of getting involved with the material from the inside, to kind of rediscover it for myself.

CORNISH: Now, one thing about "The Four Seasons," even if you think you don't know it, you do. Each...

RICHTER: That's right.

CORNISH: ...and every movement, you know, it's one of those pieces. And we have a sample of performance of what we'll, just for the sake of this, call the original. And this one is with violinist Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. And this is one of the movements from "Summer."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SUMMER")

CORNISH: And here's what you came up with.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SUMMER)

CORNISH: So, Max, help us understand, sort of how you approach this differently. Talk us through this song.

RICHTER: OK. Well, what I did was I took the opening motif, which I always just thought was a dazzling sort of moment in the Vivaldi. But, you know, in the original, it's only four bars, and then there's a pause and it does it again. And I just thought, well, why don't I just treat this like a loop, like something you might get in dance music, you know, and just loop it and intensify it and cut and paste and jump-cut around in that texture but keep that groove going.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "SUMMER")

CORNISH: There's a strain of classical music fan that, you know, really gets frustrated with these kinds of recompositions or remixes. And they argue that this is a kind of, at worst, dumbing down of the music, and at best, doesn't trust the music to kind of stand on its own.

RICHTER: Mm. Yeah.

CORNISH: Is that something you hear expressed?

RICHTER: Well, oddly enough, I haven't heard that expressed as much as I have sort of feared it might be. Overall, I've been very happy with the way that the piece has been received, because I think it's been received, you know, in the spirit that I wrote it, which is, in a way, it's an act of love towards this fantastic masterpiece.

And, you know, my piece doesn't erase the Vivaldi original.

(LAUGHTER)

RICHTER: It's a conversation from a viewpoint of, you know, here we are in 2012. And I think this is just one way to engage with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: What did you find difficult about doing this? I mean, what were the parts that you really - where Vivaldi confounded you?

RICHTER: Yeah, well...

(LAUGHTER)

RICHTER: ...there's lots of different sort of surprising difficulties with it, really. The first thing that was sort of difficult - and I wasn't expecting this, actually - was trying to understand sort of who I was at each moment of writing it. That sounds a bit crazy. But in the piece, there are sections which are just Vivaldi, where I've really left it alone. And...

CORNISH: I think a good example of that, maybe, is "Autumn?"

RICHTER: Exactly. I've done a sort of a production job on it, but I've left the notes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "AUTUMN)

RICHTER: And there other bits where there's basically only a sort of homeopathic dose of Vivaldi in this sort of completely new music. And so I sort of have to figure out who, you know, how much Max, how much Vivaldi there was going on at every moment.

CORNISH: Give us an example of a homeopathic Vivaldi.

(LAUGHTER)

RICHTER: Homeopathic dose of Vivaldi. Well, let's see. I mean, actually, the last movement, you know, "Winter 3," just has this semi-quaver 16th note figure derived from a couple of bars of the solo violin in the original Vivaldi. And the entire rest of the movement is me.

CORNISH: If you don't mind, we're actually going to see if we can play them at the same time.

(LAUGHTER)

RICHTER: Ooh, OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WINTER 3")

RICHTER: Yeah, it's not bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WINTER 3")

RICHTER: Yeah, it's great. That's a sort of meta sort of mashup.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WINTER 3")

RICHTER: Ah, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WINTER 3")

CORNISH: And this is your version, Max Richter.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WINTER 3")

RICHTER: Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "WINTER 3")

RICHTER: That's really just a solo line that's Vivaldi. But I've sort of elaborated on the - his little sort of two bar motif, and I've just sort of taken a walk with that material. And then the orchestra is playing something which is, you know, completely from another sort of planet.

CORNISH: It's interesting. In hearing them on top of each other, not just side-by-side, they're cousins. I mean, they are...

RICHTER: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

RICHTER: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Some of them are almost - they feel like they're, you know, they're related, but you quite can't put your finger on how they're related. In other places, it's quite obvious. You know, the original just kind of pokes through completely. And you think, oh, no. OK, that's just the Vivaldi.

And then it sort of goes off into something which sort of reminds you of Vivaldi or maybe it's a sort of like a thinking aloud about the Vivaldi or like a daydream about the Vivaldi. There are all different sorts of relationships between my piece and the original.

CORNISH: Well, Max Richter, thank you so much for speaking with us.

RICHTER: It's a pleasure.

CORNISH: The new album is called "Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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