I’ve always been a big fan of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. From a young age, I can remember the characteristic swell of strings in the background of memories. I always enjoyed the story the music told, taking the listener through the course of the year– beautifully realising the patterns of nature into the harmonics of music.
The thing about the Four Seasons, is that everyone has a favourite movement (You may not realise you do, but you do, I promise.) Each season incorporates musical motifs of nature- thunder in Summer, birds singing in Spring, snow and rain in Winter. For me, I’ve always come back to the Summer movement– yet never has the theme been more appropriate than living in England! The transition between the soft sound of the breeze playing on leaves to the sudden furious energy of a thunderstorm is one I’ve now beheld several times in our own Summer.
What many don’t realise is that when Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
was published, a set of sonnets were written to coincide with the music. We don’t know today whether Vivaldi himself wrote them or a contemporary, but I want to share with you the one which corresponds to my favourite movement (Summer I– If you are handy with baroque Italian, you can find the original here
Under a hard Season, fired up by the Sun
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine
We hear the cuckoo’s voice;
then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air, but threatening
the North Wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles,
fearing violent storms and his fate.
This incredible piece of music, and the beautiful poetry which accompanies it have both been on my mind the last few weeks for two reasons: 1) due to the absolute insistence on the part of our weather patterns to mimic that which Vivaldi describes, and 2) because we as a community have been thinking a great deal about how we can relate better to our environment.
Our relationship with nature is extremely important– that is why there is beautiful music and beautiful poetry abounding in every culture which pays tribute to our organic environment. Judaism is no different, and perhaps affirms a positive view of the environment even more than other cultures because, to us, taking care of the Earth is an obligation, not just a good thing to do.
I can’t help but see in those lines of Summer’s sonnet the warning that we have often failed to heed– soft breezes quickly turn to a powerful wind, we are left trembling, fearing our fate. The difference perhaps is that our fate is self-engineered. Whether the environment faces catastrophe or continued flourishing is in our hands.
PS. If you’re a Vivaldi fan, check out the re-arranged Four Seasons
done by modern British composer, Max Richter. (It’s pretty cool).