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Composer Max Richter has done a brave thing for any artist in any medium: He's messed with a classic, specifically, Vivaldi's four violin concertos known as The Four Seasons. He has a new album simply titled Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons.
Richter says that as a child, he loved The Four Seasons. But as he grew older, that passion faded.
"As a child, I fell in love with it," he tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "It's beautiful, charming music with a great melody and wonderful colors. Then, later on, as I became more musically aware — literate, studied music and listened to a lot of music — I found it more difficult to love it. We hear it everywhere — when you're on hold, you hear it in the shopping center, in advertising; it's everywhere. For me, the record and the project are trying to reclaim the piece, to fall in love with it again."
The opening bars have been recorded, re-recorded and Muzak-ed to death. Richter's "recompositions" are both subtle and forward, and, in some cases, start a groove.
"I took the opening motif, which I always thought was a dazzling moment in the Vivaldi, but in the original it's only four bars. I thought, 'Well, why don't I just treat this like a loop, like something you might hear in dance music, and just loop it and intensify it, and cut and paste — jump-cut around in that texture, but keep that groove going."
There's a strain of classical music fan who gets frustrated with these kinds of recompositions or remixes. They argue that it's at worst a dumbing down of the music — and at best doesn't trust the music to stand on its own. Richter says he hasn't heard these sentiments expressed as much as he'd feared, and that it's been received quite well.
"I think it's been received in the spirit that I wrote it, which is, in a way, an act of love towards this fantastic masterpiece," Richter says. "And, you know, my piece doesn't erase the Vivaldi original. It's a conversation from a viewpoint. I think this is just one way to engage with it."
Richter did run into some difficulties in recomposing Vivaldi.
"The first thing that was sort of difficult — and I wasn't expecting this, actually — was trying to understand who I was at each moment of writing it," he says.
"That sounds a bit crazy, but in the piece, there are sections which are just Vivaldi, where I've left it alone. I've done sort of a production on 'Autumn,' but I've left the notes. And there other bits where there's basically only a homeopathic dose of Vivaldi in this completely new music," he says. "So I have to figure out how much Max and how much Vivaldi there was going on at every moment."