Composer Max Richter is now part of Deutsche Grammophon’s acclaimed Recomposed series, in which contemporary artists are invited to re-work a traditional piece of music.
The idea of recomposing and re-processing musical works was common practice in Vivaldi’s time and the project presents an exciting opportunity to make favourite classics relevant to a wider audience. However, Richter’s approach differs fundamentally from the preceding releases: in contrast to previous participants, such as Matthew Herbert or Moritz von Oswald & Carl Craig, who reworked recordings from the extensive Deutsche Grammophon catalogue, Richter actually ‘recomposed’ Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. He is the first in the series to employ an existing score, ‘inscribe’ his new composition into Vivaldi’s and record a ‘new’ version of a familiar work, thus creating a new hybrid work.
Like many composers Richter was always fascinated by Vivaldi’s 1725 composition because “The Four Seasons is an omnipresent piece of music and like no other part of our musical landscape’ But he was also aware of that for many, including himself, it had long ago ceased to be something of beauty and had instead become an ever-present piece of muzak “You hear it in the supermarket regularly, you’re confronted with it in adverts or hear it as muzak when on hold. Slowly you begin to blank it out” Richter yearned to reconnect with the piece and to re-start the conversation on Vivaldi’s work, and he sought to do so in an accessible style that mirrored Vivaldi’s intentions with the piece, rather than to place a twentieth century Modernist imprint on it. “I wanted to open up the score on a note-by-note level, and working with an existing recording was like digging a mineshaft through an incredibly rich seam, discovering diamonds and not being able to pull them out. That became frustrating. I wanted to get inside the score at the level of the notes and in essence re-write it, re-composing it in a literal way.” In order to do this Richter wrote an entirely new score and recorded it with Daniel Hope and The Konzerthaus Kammerorchester in Berlin.
Richter calculates that, in the process, he has discarded around three-quarters of Vivaldi’s original. He opens with what he describes as “a dubby cloud which I’ve called Spring 0. It functions as a sort of prelude, setting up an electronic, ambient space for the first Spring movement to step into. I’ve used electronics in several movements, subtle, almost inaudible things to do with the bass, but I wanted certain moments to connect to the whole electronic universe that is so much part of our musical language today.” Other resonances are no less unexpected: Richter describes part of the first movement of his Summer as “heavy music for the orchestra. It’s relentless pulsed music, which is a quality that contemporary dance music has; and perhaps I was also thinking about John Bonham’s drumming. Then, in the second movement of Autumn I asked the harpsichordist Raphael Alpermann to play in what is a rather old-fashioned way, very regularly, rather like a ticking clock. That was partly because I didn’t want the harpsichord part to be attention-seeking, but also because that style connects to various pop records from the 1970s where the harpsichord or Clavinet was featured, including various Beach Boys albums and the Beatles’ Abbey Road.”
Clearly, Richter has brought his own frame of reference to the project. As he says, “Vivaldi’s music is made of regular patterns, and that connects with post-minimalism, which is one strand in the music that I write. That felt like a natural link, but even so it was surprisingly difficult to navigate my way through it. At every point, I had to work out how much is Vivaldi and how much is me. It was difficult but also rewarding because the raw material is so fascinating.” Just as Richter’s Seasons plays tricks with the way we hear Vivaldi’s original, so it also asks questions of the soloist, Daniel Hope. “Violinists have Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons hardwired in their brain. Daniel is likely to play the original I don’t know how many times in a year, and for him to have my parallel text going on in another part of his brain is a challenge. I think he did a wonderful job. He brought to it a deep engagement with the original, but he was fully prepared to cut this new swathe through the text.”
Adapted from the booklet text for the Recomposed release, written by Nick Kimberley.