Friday, October 22, 2010

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is widely regarded not only as a musical masterwork of a renowned baroque composer, but also as one of the great masterworks in all of Western art. The Four Seasons is a series of four concertos (Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each containing three movements) which are the first part of the larger 12 concerto work entitled "Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione" (The Contest of Harmony and Invention) - Vivaldi’s 8th Opus. The works were first published in Amsterdam in 1725, but were written a few years earlier, most likely when Vivaldi spent several years as Maestro for Prince Phillip, governor of Mantua.

In addition to being hailed as a musical genius and a virtuoso violinist of the highest caliber, Il Prete Rosso, or “The Red Priest” (as he was known because of his red hair and the fact that he was an ordained priest) is credited with numerous breakthroughs in baroque music. For example, today, it would be hard for anyone to imagine the violin not being used for solo work. However, before Vivaldi came along with his boundless creativity and mastery of his instrument, the violin was seen as strictly an ensemble instrument. He single handedly brought the violin from the background to the front and center.

Another of Vivaldi’s many contributions to Western music is the concept of pictorialism, which he presciently demonstrates for us in Four Seasons. For each of the three movements of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, Vivaldi attaches short sonnets for added vividry.

After springtime is so gloriously heralded-in in the very first movement, we hear the shepherd’s dog bark throughout the next movement (“Spring 2”). Rustic bagpipes fill the air at the beginning of Spring 3. In the first movement of Summer (or “Summer 1”), the call of the Cuckoo is simulated. In Summer 2, insects furiously swarm the troubled little shepherd before he witnesses the sad scene of the crops being destroyed by a summer storm. The hunters’ bugles ring out as they pursue and overcome their prey in Autumn 3. Interestingly, being that music notation doesn’t allow for certain techniques used by Vivaldi to imitate man and nature; the original sheet music has several instances of hand-written notes from him in order to coach the reader.

Besides offering a most exquisite example of pictorialism, Seasons also highlights many of the gifts which made the Red Priest one of the greats. The phenomenal mastery over his instrument becomes clear when listening to the hair-raising runs heard in pieces such the first movement of Spring and the first and third movements of Winter. His ability to lift the heart of the listener through his sheer love of music is apparent throughout Seasons, but is particularly pronounced in the first and third movements of Spring and Autumn respectively.

The sonnets below are more exegeses than translations, as literal translations of the originals to English would produce something resembling gibberish. The exegeses used here are original to this article, as many of those currently available were found to be lacking in many respects. In some cases they were too precise in translation, to the point of detraction while, in other cases, not precise enough for authenticity.

The audio files accompanying the sonnets are from an “out of print” album produced in 1976 by a 12 piece French ensemble led by Nikolaus Haroncourt. The group, obvious Vivaldi fanatics, went to great lengths by acquiring actual instruments of the time and carefully researching specific performance techniques used during the period when Vivaldi was alive. Another laudable aspect of this version is that the harpsichord - an instrument Vivaldi played - doesn't get buried by the recording process, as is so often (and so frustratingly) the case with productions of seasons. The converted sound files used for this article are for example purposes only and do not do the work appropriate justice. If you can find any available CDs of the Haroncourt version of Seasons, buy one. The production is exceedingly authentic, with a natural sound and subtle beauty that must fill the room via an appropriate sound system to be fully appreciated.

Those new to the works of the Venetian master will find Seasons is an excellent primer. Be advised, however, that Vivaldi is highly addictive. For those familiar with Vivaldi yet have not become familiar with these sonnets (there are, surprisingly, many), listening to their associated movements while contemplating them adds a new and elightening aspect to the music and the composer.

As far as the Vivaldi aficionado is concerned, well, Seasons is always a good listen. Regardless of how many times it is enjoyed, like a good cigar or glass of fine wine, it can never disappoint.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

Shyam Benegal's Kalyug(1981)

KALYUG is one of the ’’best films’’ made by Shyam Benegal and taking into consideration Shyam Benegal’s oeuvre, Kalyug must be something special to deserve that tag.KALYUG was produced by Shashi Kapoor who in his producer’s phase made some really good cinema like Junoon, Kalyug, Vijeta and Utsav..its another matter that none of them did well commercially though they did get a lot of critical acclaim and bagged a host of awards.

Kalyug tells the story of two feuding business families-one led by Raj Babbar and the other by Victor Bannerjee.They are both cousins incidently and the patriarch of the whole family is their grand-uncle played by AK Hangal. Raj Babbar who has too honest and retiring a disposition finds it difficult to acquire the smart and shrewd ways of the corporate world. He basically lacks the guile and craftiness to take the family business forward much to the chagrin of his wife Rekha. His younger brother-Kulbhusan kharbanda assists him but the person who actually runs the show is their kid brother Anant Nag who plays a driven and highly ambitious person who hates to lose.

On the other hand,Victor Banerjee is a person who will do anything by hook or crook to get one-up on his cousins.He does not hesitate to use devious and even diabolical means to beat them in the game of business.In this he is assisted by his brilliant and loyal manager Shashi kapoor who does not really endorse his ways but is too burdened by his debt to protest.Victor Banerjee has a life-long gripe with his cousins as he feels he was unfairly denied his right of leading a unified and undivided business by his cousins.He knows the dark truth of his cousins’ birth.They are not really his uncle’s children as his uncle was impotent-they were fathered by a Swamiji whose ’’sewa’’ their mother-Sushma Seth did.Victor Banerjee therefore considers them ’’bastards’’ who had no rights whatsoever on the business..

Does this story sound familiar..does it ring a bell..yes the narrative of KALYUG is heavily inspired and derived from the Mahabharata..with the 2 estranged families who fight till they completely destroy each other..Its a clever interpretation of Mahabharata in the modern context..where Raj Babbar is the self-righteous Yudhistir,Kulbushan Kharbanda is the simpleton Bheem,Anant Nag is the highly skilled Arjun,Victor Banerjee is the diabolical Duryodhana and Shashi kapoor is the loyal Karna-the illegitimate son of Sushma Seth.Shashi kapoor is incidentally called karan in the film and to make matters even more delectable there is a passing reference that his marriage proposal was rejected by the very snobbish Rekha-Draupadi.

This film wonderfully extrapolates the incidents of Mahabharata in the narrative making the going-ons very interesting.The film moves at a brisk pace and you never feel the pace of the film sagging.Considering the complexity of the plots, the film still manages to very skilfully examine and delve into the protagonists’minds.Its very adroitly done-with minimum of fuss and some wonderful dialogues by Satyadev Dubey..not the ’filmy’ kind but everyday language is used...

The film’s ensemble cast put in spirited performances-be it Victor Banerjee who hits just the right pitch to play the arrogant,refined yet spiteful Dhanraj.Anant Nag shows his inherent restrain and underplays his slightly flamboyant role.Raj Babbar mercifully doesn’t ham and neither does Kulbhushan Kharbanda-think Mr. Benegal held them on a tight leash.Rekha plays the snobbish,unhappy-with-her-husband,hard as nails,uppity character with flourish.Shashi Kapoor shows what a wonderful actor he was..wish he had done more roles like this..instead of the happy-go-lucky poor man’s Shammi Kapoor roles he specialised in..The rest of the cast puts in some good urmila matondakar as the young parikhshit...:)

The direction by Shyam Benegal is unobtrusive..he creates a complex web and draws the viewers in it..slowly but surely..there’s no look-at-me technical wizardry of Ram Gopal Verma in his directorial touches.Incidentally Ramgopal Verma said in one of his interviews that his ’Company’ was inspired by ’Kalyug’!!!Trust Ramu to come with gems like that...

So folks go for it..if you have not seen this one..there was a time when Sony used to show this film a lot..they might still be doing it on whenever you do get an opportunity revel in the mastery of Shyam Benegal..

P.S- BGM of the movie by Vanraj Bhatia is complements the movie brilliantly!!