Le Quattro Stagioni
In 1725, the composer Antonio Vivaldi wrote his most famous work, Le Quattro Stagioni, or “The Four Seasons.” This same piece of music, a series of violin concertos, has pleased listeners for 400 years. Universally recognizable to this day, more sophisticated than modern day melodies and surely more withstanding, “The Four Seasons” marks an inspired achievement in classical music.
The experience of listening to this arrangement, however, is so much more than sound. The music transcends time. It is much more than the dots and lines of ink on a page that forms a sequence of symbols that a violist will react to with mind and body. The music becomes an inexhaustible source of inspiration and beauty, contemplation and sentiment.
The music becomes an eternal narrative.
Spring is cheerful and welcoming: an awakening, upbeat and even. Vivaldi’s creamy violin bounces up and down E Minor like a rabbit’s heartbeat. The opening Allegro frolics along lightly until it grows into a full orchestration, as if refocusing from the tracks in a single blade of grass to a panorama of lush green pasture. Then, a hush… The gentle Largo softly plucks at the strings, drizzling duos of notes like rain, and subtly forecasting the melodies of the seasons to come. The Allegro returns with the full splendor of daybreak, alive and invigorating, like a beam of sunlight warming a newly formed leaf.
“How in the hell are ya’?” Justin leaned in and put his arm around me, the other loosely clamped on a can of Miller Lite.
“Alright,” I responded, carrying a flat box in one hand and weakly patting his back with my free arm. “I bought this take & bake pizza last night and never made it--figured we could while it’s still fresh.” I slid the box in the fridge and pulled out my own can of beer from the fully stocked fridge.
“Cool. The man is just inside watching his show, he should be asleep in the next half hour or so.”
We entered the warm house through the garage. I rarely, if ever, use the front door. Connor, my young nephew, sprawled his body out on the floor in the living room. He was half covered by a green fleece blanket, his little head propped at a drastic angle to watch Sesame Street.
“Hey, pal!” I called to him from the kitchen, then again from the entry way of the living room. He was completely engrossed.
“Hey, give Auntie Ash a kiss!” Justin leaned in closer.
Connor didn’t break his gaze.
“He’s in the zone. Let’s just leave him be.” Justin set the TV to loop several episodes of Sesame Street, then we made our way out to the garage.
I pulled out a long, white Marlboro light. The pack I bought the last weekend for one cigarette. The other 19 sat patiently waiting in my dresser for another occasion that deemed smoking necessary. I decided it was necessary when my brother called and invited me over for a beer. It had been too long.
“So how’s the new job going?” I asked.
“It’s, well, it’s bullshit.”
“No, I mean, the money is great, but no one knows what the hell is going on and it’s just an absolute shit show. I’ll be on a six month probation until April…”
Justin explained the ins and outs of his factory workers’ union, the minimal initiative of his crew, and the lagging work ethic of society in general. I sat listening, pulling off my cigarette and flooding cool rivers of Miller Lite down my throat.
If life begins in spring, then it swells in summer. At first, Summer is a calmness, a leisurely extension of Spring, the tempo is slow, warm, forestalling—before the jolt, the heat, the immersion into the storm. The bow of the violin darts furiously up and down along the taut strings, the melodic urgency of G minor, rising higher and higher, until it is joined by a convoy of deep ranging strings, tremors of undulating scales. Summer is a revelation, an emotional spark, a quickening of the pulse, a dramatic turn.
After checking in on Connor, Justin returned to his green folding chair and crossed his feet in front of him.
“Where were we?” he asked.
“You were talking about how you guys go through cycles,” I said.
“Yeah, so last week she was all pissed off again, she hands me these papers and says ‘you can move out and just walk away from all of it, me, Connor, the house, and that will be the end of it’.”
“What?” I said, exhaling a stream of smoke into the still garage.
“I know, like I’m going to leave this house, which I sunk my 401K into to buy, and leave my son. Like I’m threatened by her. How can she be so stupid?”
I shook my head. I had started this doomed marriage 10 years prior. Theresa and I worked together, she was single, he was single, how could I have known?
Justin dog piled the divorce papers with Theresa’s lack of organization, her mishandling of money, and the way she left her coffee mug in the sink. I fished another pair of beers out of the fridge and handed him one.
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m going to go broke standing up in Amanda’s million dollar wedding,” I said as I took my seat across from him.
“Oh, yeah? The Plaza?” Justin cracked the can open.
“We’ll see. She’s coming into town in a few weeks, we’re going to a boutique for a bridesmaid’s dress fitting. I can only imagine.”
“Five-hundred bucks? What?” He took a long slug.
“She knows I don’t have a ton of money, so I hope she considered everyone’s budget. Next to her ‘navy and silver gala,’ ours is going to look like some white trash hooligan barbeque.”
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do something nice. Just do a small ceremony, then have a bad ass party. If you need help, you know I’ll help you.”
“I can’t ask you for help,” I said, extinguishing a butt.
“Shut up. If you need help, just ask me.”
In harvesting variations of the melodies that precede it, Autumn exceeds its counterparts in depth and complexity. It’s a passing, a transition, a reflection. Somehow it evokes the sensation and familiarity of Summer and Spring, but it reaps a new identity. The opening Allegro rustles along F major before pausing, almost completely, for the soft twang of the harpsichord. The soft, patient melody becomes the solid wooden frame of an oak tree that doesn’t move for the world around it; it merely reflects the changes. At last, the jovial Hunter’s solo winds between all four strings, before resting peacefully like the final fallen leaf that sways to the ground.
“You can be my dis-dis-dis-dis-dis-dis-dis-dis…”
“Oh, turn that off!” I covered one ear with my free hand.
“This fucking thing…” Justin muttered, ejecting the CD carousel out of his stereo. “Well, what do you wanna listen to?” He began to rifle through a 10-gallon bin of CD cases.
“Whatever,” I called back, considering some of the awful albums in Justin’s collection.
“How about some Vivaldi?” He held up the case for me to see; all I could make out was a picture of a red-leafed tree.
“Yeah, what do you know about it?” He opened the case, clutched the edges of the disc and filed it into the carousel.
“I like classical to do homework, I can’t have music with words.”
Justin pressed play, and the the violins of Summer saturated the empty echo of the garage.
“Me and dad have been to see this symphony twice, it was awesome.”
I nodded and thought of our dad, conducting music in his head with his index finger.
“Okay, now listen-” Justin skipped to the opening Allegro of Autumn, swaying slightly as he stood with his finger in front of the buttons. “Now, this is F Major.”
“Okay,” I said, sitting on our abandoned game of pool. I was losing anyways.
“So, what he’s doing, is the solo is playing up here-” he held his right hand out to play air piano, “and the harmony is playing down here.” He joined his left hand to play a full air keyboard. “So as long as you stay in the chord, you’ll stay in harmony.”
“I get it; you don’t have to tell me how good it is.”
“Lemme play it on the guitar.” Justin went to his electric Gibson and cranked the amp. It took a few tries, but he found F Major.
I listened for a few minutes, then turned up the radio slightly. “I think he’s a little more talented than you are, no offense.”
“No, this guy is great,” Justin conceded, pulling his guitar strap over his head. “When I listen to it, I hear guitar solos-this is so much more advanced than any shit you hear on the radio today.”
Winter is the awareness of eternity. It begins with a sensation, the violins pulse to prepare the listener, creeping, gaining intensity, increasing in volume—suddenly interrupted by the high pitched shivers of the solo, darting from east to west like a fragile snowflake in a monstrous blizzard. Winter then stills, as the delicate Largo softens and drips down slowly, like an icicle melting in the sun. The expression is neither complicated nor simple; it is a stillness, a moment frozen in time. Like a snowflake, so familiar, and yet each fragment contains endless designs of crystallization. The final Allegro faintly echoes nuances of Spring, like tiny patches of green grass that break through an endless white landscape.
“It’s four o’clock in the morning!” I announced, returning from the bathroom.
“So?” Justin replied, his left hand keeping warm in the front pouch of his hoodie.
“So why the hell are we still awake?”
“I was having fun,” Justin said. “Do you wanna go to bed?”
“I have a better idea.” I went back into the house and dug out the Presto Pizzazz pizza oven I knew to be buried in the kitchen. I broke a nail tearing away the cellophane from the cold, doughy pie, but I was too hungry to care.
Once the pizza began its rotations under the heat lamp, I returned to the garage.
“What in the hell were you doing in there?”
“I threw the pizza on the Pizzazz.”
“Oh, nice. You want to play another game of pool?” Justin said, already chalking a cue.
“I guess, while we’re waiting.” I lit up another cigarette, took a puff, and rested it in the ash tray. I had lost every game, so I was used to racking.
“This is cool, Ash, that you and me can hang out like this. No bullshit, you know?”
“Yeah, I know.”
Justin balanced over the table and broke. I watched the balls scatter across the worn, green felt. They always landed in a new place. “The Four Seasons” was winding down, only a few minutes left of Winter.
“We should all go see this—you, me, and Dad—when it comes back to the symphony,” Justin suggested as he turned up the volume for the final measures.
In 1741, Vivaldi left his native Venice to stage operas on commission in Vienna. When his benefactor, Charles VI died, Vivaldi struggled alone and impoverished until he passed in the summer of the year.
In 2014, I purchased a re-release of “Le Quattro Stagioni.”
About the author:
AshLeigh Brown is a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in the Corner Club Press. Read more of her fiction and poetry here.