Summer has arrived! Breakfast Blend host Sara Schneider has a playlist to get you through the hot days this year.
Arthur Honegger, Pastorale d'été
In 1920 Arthur Honegger was a newly-minted member of Les Six, a group of young Parisian composers, and working almost continuously. In August of that year he went back home to Switzerland, and was inspired to write his first success as a composer while enjoying some R&R in the Alps. The score of this summer pastorale begins with a quote by Rimbaud: “I embraced the summer dawn,” and it unfolds much like a perfect summer day: with a restful, untroubled beginning and ending, interspersed with periods of energy, fun, and humor. The piece received its first performance in Paris in February of the following year, and I imagine the audience felt a brief spell of warm sunshine, fresh air, and fragrant forests in their gloomy winter day.
“Summer” from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Recomposed by Max Richter
Taking another composer's musical idea and running with it is nothing new- just ask Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Nyman, or any other composers who have transcribed, written variations, or “borrowed” themes for other uses. But Max Richter took music famous (or infamous) for its universal recognizability, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and recomposed it. How did listeners respond? "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 said in an interview with NPR. "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." In my opinion, Richter's minimalistic groove provides a wonderful foil for Vivaldi's Baroque lavishness.
“Verano Porteño” from Las Cuatro Estaciones by Astor Piazzolla
Astor Piazzolla changed his approach to composing while studying with legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger. She analyzed the symphonies and chamber music he'd written, and said she could see a lot of Ravel, Stravinsky, and other composers, but no Piazzolla in his music. Then she made him play a tango. “You idiot!” Boulanger told him, “that is the real Piazzolla.” Verano Porteño (Buenos Aires Summer) began as a stand-alone work for Piazzolla to play with his quintet, but he later expanded the work to include the other three seasons. The original version featuring the bandoneon (a type of concertina) breathes the spirit of the city, with heat and energy to spare.
Summer Music, Op. 31, by Samuel Barber
The tempo of the opening movement of this wind quintet is marked “slow and indolent”- my normal outdoor tempo in the Texas heat. But this piece was commissioned by a group in a cooler climate: the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, and first performed there in 1956. The bluesy opening and closing sections are reminiscent of Gershwin, there are echoes of Stravinsky, and a lively section in the middle where all five instruments seem to engage in a spirited discussion, like opinionated friends at a picnic.
Bonus track: “Summertime” from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, sung by the amazing Kathleen Battle!