Toying With Musical Thoughts
I’m guessing he was playful at heart. Think about it. He wrote concertos that depicted the elements of weather: breezes, winds, ice, and storms. Add to that his imitations of birds, barking dogs, galloping horses, stomping feet, and echoes.
Yes, I’m referring to Antonio Vivaldi. Maybe it’s the upcoming change of seasons that brings to mind the famous composer of the concertos known as The Four Seasons. Actually, it was playing his “Echo” Concerto (Concerto in A major, RV 552), which features a solo violin in the foreground, and one accompanied by a couple of players in the distance. It’s a theatrical echo portrayal. But it must have been inspired by having composed music for churches and cathedrals, where the echo factor comes into play. If you’ve listened to music in that environment, it makes the concerto all the more enjoyable.
Vivaldi wasn’t the first to mimic the sounds of nature or recreate echoes. And those devices really are a “seasoning” for the tunes that he wrote. The more I’ve listened to Vivaldi over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate his tunes.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a fun thought when I was planning to play a famous piece by Vivaldi’s well-known contemporary. You probably have heard references to the “Air Quality Index” in conjunction with weather forecasts. Basically, it tells you how clean the air is – particularly for the sake of those who have respiratory conditions. Well, Johann Sebastian Bach called the second movement of his orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 an “air,” which is another word for song or tune. I wondered whether you can measure the quality of a musical air.
Yes, I know. It’s really more subjective than objective. Only individual listeners can tell you whether they think a piece of music is one of quality. Merriam Webster defines “quality” as “degree of excellence” or “superiority in kind.” It basically comes down to ranking listener preferences. But if there was such an index for musical airs, all indications are that it would tell you to take a nice deep breath and enjoy the “Air in G” by Bach.
Some folks are catching their breath these days after trips up and down the toy aisles of stores. Undoubtedly, some have come upon musical toys, if not toy instruments. Hopefully, those will inspire children to pursue a bit of music making.
Toys and children at play have inspired classical music composers. Gabriel Fauré wrote several pieces for piano 4-hands over the course of a number of years for a young girl known as “Dolly.” Eventually, he arranged them into a suite named for her.
You may not have heard the names Jean & Mimi Godebski. They’re the children for whom Maurice Ravel wrote a suite of pieces for piano 4-hands inspired by fairy tales. Ravel called it Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose). He later orchestrated and reworked the suite as a ballet.
There are quite a few collections of pieces inspired by or written for children. In recent weeks, I’ve played excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young, Bizet’s Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games), Carl Nielsen’s Humoresque Bagatelles, William Walton’s Music for Children and Sergei Prokofiev’s Music for Children.
The girls for whom Gustav Holst wrote the famous St. Paul’s Suite for strings had their names attached to it generically – as members of the senior orchestra of the St. Paul’s Girls School. They were a team. I’ve seen a note suggesting that Holst, music master there for nearly 30 years, arranged a version that included winds, so that more of the players could join in.
Though the teams of many nations participated in the World Cup Games, it’s down to the final game. I’m guessing Vivaldi might have written a World Cup-inspired opera. But the first games weren’t played until 1930 in Uruguay. He did write one that takes place at the Olympic Games. It’s known as L’Olimpiade (The Olympiade). And I happened to notice that an opera titled The Gods of the Game – which does involve the World Cup, premiered at Grange Park Opera in England in October.
You don’t need a playful title or references to children or games to enjoy the playfulness that’s a part of so many works of classical music. The more closely you listen, the more you’ll hear instruments passing tunes back and forth, tunes trying on little variations, shifting tempos, dances, references to well-known melodies, musical giggling or laughter and seemingly wrong notes in all the right places. Take the time to enjoy it. It might remind you of the playfulness that’s a part of all of us.
And stay tuned to WILL-FM to enjoy that music throughout the upcoming holidays. You can hear us at 90.9 FM or online at will.illinois.edu.