The Four Seasons and Music

Issue #3 • 1112

It is not in vain, when we watch the rise of constellations,
And how the four seasons change.

Y. Chernyshev. Springtime Yard. 2006. Canvas, oil

Spiritual experience of mankind that counts thousands of years has always explored the mystery of Truth in infinitely minor – earthly, and in infinitely great – cosmic, universal space of life. Ages and socio-historical formation pass, and the world of nature still constitutes constant phenomenon in a person’s spiritual life, remaining the model for his notions about aesthetic ideal. Uncontrolled by man, the passage of time, in its finiteness for everyone and its infinity for the Universe, excites human being, captivates philosophers, finds reflection in art and remains a perpetual and inscrutable mystery throughout the entire development of civilization. Knowing the mystery of time is a boundless and captivating process, which, at the same time, introduces methodical regularity in this immeasurable category. Natural, engineering, social, art and other sciences often chose time as a subject of academic research. Modern cosmology measures time in billions of years, while quantum mechanics – in quadrillion fractions of a second. Notions such as philosophic, chemical, biological, psychological, economic, and, finally, artistic time stay in currency in specialized treatises.

Y. Chernyshev. First Snow. 2006. Canvas, oil

Perhaps, one of the earliest manifestations of structural organization of time recognized by the man was the annual cycle of changing seasons. It is no chance that ancient Romans, alongside Saturn, the god of time, (Chronos in Greek mythology) also worshiped Janus, the god of origins and ends, who gave his name to the month of January that opens the annual cycle. Usually he was portrayed with two faces: young and old, or merry and sad, to represent his knowledge of past and future. Even today, for the consciousness of everyone of us, time, taking any realistic form, is associated specifically with this objective process. Calendar mercilessly cancels days, weeks, and months, and only the supreme logic of natural transformations gives the frailty of human existence the sense of constancy, orientation and regularity in the infinite temporal flow.

M. Kagarov. Autumn. 1993. Canvas, oil

The constant flow of living nature as basis for the cognition of the essence of existence is reflected in numerous works created by the most prominent representatives of the world’s literature and art of different epochs and stylistic trends. The theme of perpetual cycle of nature as an art concept belongs to the category of “eternal” and remains one of the most relevant in contemporary art. In musicology, compared to other domains of art, it has not been studied in broad historical and cultural planes. Historically, different ways of artistic representation of cyclic recurrence of time confirm the philosophic idea of spiral cultural development and, therefore, maintain their relevance regardless of any particular cultural and historic context and prevailing social notions and mindsets. The interpretation of objective time in art has always been directly related to a state in cultural development. By turning to this concept unconstrained by any geographic and national boundaries, every artist introduces his own vision into it. Multilevel theme content provides for different degrees and aspects of theme cognition in all kinds of art.

S. Nugmanov. Spring.  2004. Canvas, oil

Annual cycle performs as factor of unconditional constancy, as unchangeable landmark in the sequence of temporal changes that occur in nature itself.

It is the gyre that functions as a supreme law that rules the world and performs the function of a measure of natural time. And it is no accident that in his desire to know some supreme universal harmony by means of science or art, the man inevitably turns to the theme of the four seasons. Its interpretation as basis of universal logic of the world can be found in oriental musical-aesthetic treatises where, following the principle of analogy, one can find a deeply rooted connection between the sequence of months and seasons and various, sometimes unconnected phenomena. Here the assorted elements fit into aggregate charts that demonstrate deep interdependence of elements, which invariably include the annual cycle. Therefore, the treatises include recommendations on how to perform certain musical pieces during a particular time of the year. This idea is developed in a treatise about music authored by remarkable representatives of musical aesthetics, the Brothers of Purity and Friends of Devotion (10th century), in a didactic treatise “Kabus-name” by Kai-Kavus (10th century), in the works of Safiaddin al-Urmavi (13th century), Abdurahman Jami (15th century), Najmiddin Kavbaki (16th century), and Darvish Ali Changhi (17th century).

V. Enin. Spring of Yangi-Abad. 2002. Canvas, oil

Rich soil to identify common patterns in artistic representation of the theme is given by calendar-ritual songs that are based almost entirely on the annual cycle of seasons, which is manifested in the forms of existence and functioning of selected genres (1). Many scholars dealing with this subject-matter note their archaic origin and link it to the most ancient beliefs about magical influence upon the forces of nature (2). Dependence of folklore genres on a calendar is determined by the fact that notions such as winter, spring, summer and autumn are manifested in specific relation to temporal processes and are directly linked to the kind of labour in all agrarian cultures.

S. Nugmanov. Winter.  2004. Canvas, oil

Composers’ approach to the theme of seasons evolves in close association with philosophy and aesthetics. Here the key role is played by historical and artistic styles that produce certain influence on both the concept itself, and artistic objectives for theme representation. For instance, while Renaissance and Baroque are most vividly represented by Antonio Vivaldi’s concert cycle “The Four Seasons” (3), the classic embodiment of the theme is “The Four Seasons” oratorio by Josef Haydn (4). In the 19th century, due to more powerful individualistic and personal element in art, one could observe romantic interpretation of the theme (piano cycle “The Four Seasons” by P. Chaikovskiy (5)), as well as the influence of Art Modern (“The Four Seasons” ballet by Alexander Glazunov (6)).

M. Tashpulatov. Winter. 2004. Canvas, oil

A new phase in artistic recognition of this theme begins in the 20th century. The polyphony of styles and trends, bold experiments, expansion of semantic accents and aspects combined with diverse choice from the range of expressive means constitute a multitude of sometimes controversial concepts and dramaturgical solutions based on the common idea of the natural cycle. At the same time, this period of musical art reproductively comprises achievements of bygone ages and, often using them as basis, generates new solutions. Hence in the implementation of the four seasons theme, one can clearly trace its multilevel conceptuality. Yet the individual origin always prevails. In this regard, of interest is the specificity of national peculiarity in the composers’ interpretation on the theme in different national schools.

Y. Chernyshev.  Summer.  2006. Canvas, oil

In Valeriy Gavrilin’s song cycle “The Four Seasons” the subject is presented in close connection with Russian folk art. Calendar-rite approach to the theme is reflected here on a new stage of Russian music development in the stream of neo-folk (7). In “The Four Seasons” for instrumental quintet an Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla approaches the understanding of the natural cycle phenomena by viewing them through the prism of stylization – a typical feature in the 20th century music. Work along the genre model of tango is basis not only for this piece, but it also determines features of an individual style as a whole.

German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen thinks of the seasons in the context of cosmological notions in his “Zodiac” cycle where he presents the annual gyre of the twelve celestial signs and twelve types of human character (8).

Y. Chernyshev.  Autumnal Bouquet . 2006. Canvas, oil

Oriental versification of the seasons theme is most illustratively presented in pieces created by Boris Arapov, Felix Yanov-Yanovskiy and Mustafo Bafoev. “The Four Seasons” for soprano, tenor and Boris Arapov’s instrumental nonet using Japanese hokku for lyrics is a cycle that consists of five vocal and three instrumental parts. The process of season change is accompanied by characteristic natural phenomena of each season (nightingale song and May shower; butterflies and hot air; black raven and overcast sky; fast sleigh ride). Natural tetractis from spring to winter with inserted instrumental interludes contains fleeting impression-sketches, and as a second conventional-association plan, one can identify parallels with periods of human life (9).

In the art of Felix Yanov-Yanovskiy the theme is explored in close relationship with Japanese and Chinese poetry. These are four miniatures titled “The Four Seasons” for voice and piano using lyrics by Matsuo Basyo; little suite “Elegies” for soprano and chamber ensemble, lyrics by Sumako Fukao; four miniatures “Sad Songs” for voice and piano, lyrics by Bo Tzyui-I, Lee Bo, Ono-no Komati, and Du Fu. It is notable that in different stages of his artistic career the composer built different concepts of artistic implementation of perpetual natural gyre. In this case, commonality of poetic sources becomes a uniting factor that deepens philosophical-psychological implication in each of the cycles. The choice of text sequence is done by the composer in keeping with specific concoction. For instance in “Elegies” the cyclic nature of changing seasons is interpreted through the prism of romantically lyrical content where emotional and romantic connotation is veiled behind allegorical expression. In “The Four Seasons” the pacifist idea of peace is realized; hence the particular tragedy of untimely lost lives, an epitaph for the fallen (10). In the “Sad Songs” cycle the irreversibility of life cycle and, at the same time, its reversibility, and the infinity of nature are communicated through the hero’s subjective attitude to the world around.

In the four frescos titled “The Seasons” by Mustafo Bafoev – programmatic suite with specifying subheadings “Gullar tarovati” (Flour fragrance – Spring); “Mehnat yallasi” (Labour Song – Summer); “Mekhrgon okhanglari” (Harvest Feast – Autumn); “Moziydin sado keladur” (Sounds from the Past – Winter) – the sequence of pictures of nature is not limited to a pictorial-applied function. The piece originally devised as musical stage performance was scheduled to mark the anniversary of Alisher Navoi. The seasons are interpreted in a metaphorical key and are associated with phases in the poet’s life, creating the second conventional-associative dimension of lyrical-philosophic understanding of the theme. Programmatic content of the piece is interpreted with support from the Seventeenth Conversation “About seasons and ages in people’s life” from the poem “Confusion of the Rightous” by A. Navoi. The composer, asking himself a question about the meaning of life and finiteness of earthly existence, creates a natural gyre of life phenomena and simultaneously presents the confession of the lead character who is learning the beauty and harmony of the world around. Accentuated rite-labour component of the annual cycle and its projection on the phases of earthly life-path are similar to the concept of Josef Haydn’s oratorio “The Four Seasons”.

In early 21st century the four seasons theme is developed in the works of Uzbek composers – Akram Hashimov and Habibulla Rahimov. “The Four Seasons” cycle for trombone and piano (2007) by Akram Hashimov (dedicated to Juma Saburov, Associate Professor of the wind instruments department of the State Conservatory of Uzbekistan, and first performed in March 2007) consists of four sketches of natural images, which the composer presents by way of associative interpretation based on the overall programmatic idea. “Winter”, “Spring Has Come”, “Summer Walks” and “Autumnal Landscapes” subheadings focus the perspective and determine the idea. Character-based dramaturgical concept of the four component pieces represents a synthesis of national and European artistic traditions. The solo trombone’s timber chosen by the composer discloses the theme of each cycle part and its nuances. The trombone is featured in different incarnations: on the one hand, the composer demonstrates its technical capabilities, virtuosity and wide diapason; on the other, it is the timber that enriches the emotional sphere and gives the sketches their unique colouring. The piano part is an equal participant in the instrumental dialogue with diverse use of texture devices and timber-colour possibilities. In this cycle the mechanism of changing seasons is presented not as an object of portrayal, but rather as an impulse for creating various images and sentiments, in which the life itself is reflected.

“The Four Seasons in Tashkent” cycle for Habibulla Rahimov’s traditional instrument orchestra (dedicated to the 2200th anniversary of Tashkent city) is an original rendition of the chosen theme. The suite consists of four parts: “Winter in Tashkent. Snow Storm”, “Springtime Morning”, “Summer. Dancing Fountains”, and “Autumn. Harvest Feast”. The composer compiles the cycle of contrasting musical images, each of them in the stream of interconnected traditional origin and contemporary expressive means. In the concluding part of the piece there is a quotation from two classical (maqom) melodies – “Toshkent Orighi” and “Toshkent Ufori”. The composer masterfully employs the resources of traditional orchestra, giving specific attention to exploiting the potential of these instruments and demonstrating their concert implementation. Vivid pictures of city life are structures boldly, clearly and constructively.

Observations over the methods of artistic implementation of the theme in question in the art of musical composition of different epochs and styles identify the paradoxicality of the study object itself. The annual cycle of seasons is a universally known art theme, and, at the same time, an infinite diversity of its interpretations. An open, unidirectional plot and, simultaneously, a big variety of ways to organize wholesome compositions on its basis… A clear idea and, at the same time, the many aspects of its implementation… In each individual case the specificity of approach to the interpretation of the theme is determined by the dialectics of predominant stylistic trend and individual creative initiative. This is where that imagery and semantic implication is formed, which helps to recognize potential capacity and depth of the content.

Milorad Pavich, with the help of the seasons, develops the specifics of stylistic evolution of art in an original way: “In any moment in history, inside any culture there are at least three art styles that overlap and complement one another: autumn of the going style, spring of the nascent style, and summer of the style that is in its heyday and dominant in art. The new style (i.e. “spring”) in its eagerness to take over the leading one (“summer”) uses the experience not of its immediate predecessor, but the techniques of the already dying style (i.e. “autumn”), because both “spring” and “autumn” have controversial character” (11). This statement that has a deep insight into a complex laboratory of artistic creation, in which many different trends and traditions can intersect, is very indicative in light of this study due to a number of reasons. First, it allows a more flexible approach to chronological division of art process into separate stylistic segments. Second, it proves that universal ideas and phenomena can be employed to prove any concepts, both artistic and scientific. And, finally, it demonstrates that the annual cycle theme, regardless of any particular purpose of turning to it, always becomes a symbol of a superior logic of temporal processes, which certainly include the entire history of development of musical art.

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2. Фрэзер Дж. Золотая ветвь. М., 1975; Тайлор Э. Первобытная культура М., 1989.
3. Белецкий И. В. Антонио Вивальди. М., 1975; Ливанова Т. Н. Проблема стиля в музыке XVIII века// Ренессанс, барокко, классицизм. Проблемы стилей в западноевропейском искусстве XV – XVII веков.
4. Новак Л. Йозеф Гайдн. М., 1973; Кремлев Ю. А. Йозеф Гайдн. Очерк жизни и творчества. М., 1972.
5. Чайковский П. И. Полное собрание сочинений. Литературные произведения и переписка. Т.5. М., 1959.
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7. Варламов Д. Музыкальный фольклор и неофольклоризм: особенности семантики и языка// Музыковедение. 2007, № 8.
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10. Чахвадзе Н. В. Феликс Янов-Яновский// Композиторы союзных республик. М., 1988.
11. Павич М. “Звездная мантия”. Цит. по: Янов-Яновская Н. С. Бетховен как уникальное стилевое явление. Рукопись, с.1.

Zhanna Martirosova

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