The Music of Spring

The Music of Spring

The changing of the seasons is a constant in our lives, it is a common human experience marked by celebrations or rituals which date back thousands of years. Generations of composers and musicians have looked to the start of spring for inspiration, and have commemorated the onset of new life in songs, sonatas, and symphonies. One of the most well-known springtime works is Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Paris’ Pagan Ballet

Composer Igor Stravinsky

In 1913, Paris’ Ballet Russes performed Stravinsky’s seminal work for the first time. Unusual for its time, The Rite of Spring featured dramatic ballet performance and orchestral accompaniment.. Based on a poem by Sergey Gorodetsky, it tells a story tied to Russia’s pagan past, involving rituals and the sacrifice of a young maiden to the God of Spring. Premiered in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the work with its disturbing themes along with the extreme avant-garde music incited the audience to riot. Concert-goers were so shocked by the performance that they yelled and threw whatever objects they had at hand at the orchestra. Despite the initial reaction, musicologists have unilaterally declared the work a modern masterpiece, and it is regularly performed as a standalone concert work.

The Progenitor of Program Music

Composer Antonio Vivaldi

Perhaps the most famous springtime work is Vivaldi’s Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, also known as “Spring” from his popular concerto suite The Four Seasons. The piece is unusual in that each of the four concertos is meant to be listened to while musing on an accompanying sonnet. Although the text of these sonnets is known, the author is not; historians are also unsure whether Vivaldi’s music was written to accompany the sonnets or vice versa. Either way, The Four Seasons represents one of the earliest examples of what is known as program music (music with an extra-musical narrative component). The concerto itself is light and vibrant, a typical celebration of the season which brings fair weather and life back to the world.


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