Sunday, June 06, 2004

Why "The Four Seasons"?

The dominance of any particular piece of music in popularity always fascinates me. Earlier I was thinking about 'Stairway To Heaven'. Today, while listening to Corelli's relatively well-known yet scarcely popular Concerti Grossi, I wondered why Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" is perhaps the single best known and best selling 'Classical' work.

It's not that the Vivaldi is bad - it really is rather good. But not inherently better than much other Baroque music, most of which I feel - if it was heard - would satisfy the casual listener equally well. And there of course is the answer. "The Four Seasons" is popular because it is familiar. Every third day I hear it in the Barnes & Noble cafeteria, and that is not the only public place where I have heard it, in some version or another (and it seems to have arranged for all and every popular instrumental combination).

Sadly though for the Vivaldi work, I am enjoying this Corelli vastly more because it remains fresh and unspoiled. Just like the Led Zeppelin song, over-exposure has taken away the pleasure of hearing the 'Seasons'. Another reason why I do not watch T.V. or listen to the radio. The more time that passes since I gave up what I call the non-interactive visual and audio media, the more I realise that I am diverging from the expectations and assumptions of the T.V./radio generation. This is isolating yet also freeing. Not knowing about the latest popular T.V. commercial or 'reality' show leaves me clueless in casual conversations, but enables me to listen to these delightful Concerti Grossi without a mind full of junk thoughts.


Lynn said...

I think The Four Seasons is popular partly because it has a "program". People who are not familiar with classical music often worry that they are supposed to be getting some particular meaning from the music and without any clues they're afraid they won't get it. With the Four Seasons it's easy - it's the seasons. When you have the title as clue Spring does sound like spring, Summer sounds like summer and so forth.


Miguel said...

I agree with Lynn: it's much easier to market something like 'The Four Seasons' than it is to sell something with a more programmatic title. What minuscule percentage of 'Four Seasons' fans have even taken the trouble to explore the other eight concerti in the same collection? Indeed, how often have they been recorded?

Mind you, this is a relatively recent phenomenon: before the 1950s, 'The Four Seasons' was strictly for baroque specialists only, and Vivaldi was just an obscure name from the past. Is it too facetious to suggest that there's a link between the music's subsequent popularity and the rise of TV advertising, where 'The Four Seasons' is all but ubiquitous?