Crimbo limbo needs music

It’s that time of year, isn’t it?

That lull between the end of one celebration and the beginning of another. The time when many us who do not leg it for faraway climes may move from one bunch of rellies to another; or, having successfully survived that already, just stay put and while away the hours, going on ‘hearty’ yet reluctant walks. Anything, even on-line sales for items we do not need, with the sole purpose of bridging 25th December with the 31st.

There’s the pub, of course. Done that too, a few times.

It’s only the 29th today and now I’m struggling with a protracted break. And if I am, others must be, too. Even the Test match ended the day early. So – what to do?

It’s the fourth day of Christmas. Truly I never thought I would turn to the music of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and even less so, in the spirit of four, to his Four Seasons, a collection of four concertos you may think you know so well as not to hear anything new in them. Much what I  thought until I discovered this.

The redhead Vivaldi was born in Venice, where he spent much of his life composing music for an orphanage. As the first born of nine children, it was the then custom to single him out for the priesthood, a tradition I can be glad has long since gone into abeyance; but as someone who suffered from a mild form of asthma, he managed to discharge his priestly duties only rarely.

His output was indeed substantial, and he was by far the leading Baroque composer of his day. His music had a clear influence on Bach, but a voluminous legacy is not enough to guarantee long term popularity and he died in poverty in Vienna. Stravinsky was perhaps the most outspoken, calling him “greatly overrated – a dull fellow who could compose the same form over and so many times over”.

The house in which he lived has since been replaced by the Hotel Sacher, and I can personally vouch for the excellence of its Sachertorte.

Few would dispute that his Four Seasons comprise his most famous work, but there have been far too many unnecessary attempts to try and jazz them up to make them more accessible than they already are. Since we are in winter now, let us stay on theme and select number 4 by that name, here played in summer yellow by Anne Sophie Mutter. So shut the curtains, light a fire, pour yourselves a drink – and be thankful you are inside to listen to this. Because it’s cold, it really is.

A discovery, I believe, of the somewhat tyrannical and self-important conductor, Herbert von Karajan (don’t waste your time putting his name into my search bar), Mutter is seen here in her signature backless dress, the very embodiment of the German phrase “ein schöner Rücken kann auch entzücken” (translating, without the same rhythm, into “a nice back can also delight”. “A nice rear can also endear” is a version of choice for some, but not here, surely?)

She is a sensational violinist, here playing amongst string instruments and harpsichord only, and the real chill, the chattering of teeth in the bitter cold, is all too clear throughout. It shivers from the start. This is another of those examples where an overfamiliar, certainly overplayed, piece can still spring an unexpected pleasure.

Click below. Now what am going to do until Sunday?

(Spoke too soon – just been informed I’m in charge of games for New Year’s Eve.)

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