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The Original Four Seasons
and The Devil's Trill Sonata


The Original Four Seasons album


The Original Four Seasons
(Antonio Vivaldi arr. Vanessa-Mae/Pamela Nicholson)

    1. i Allegro (3:09)
    2. ii Largo e pianissimo sempre (3:07)
    3. iii Allegro (3:57)
    4. i Allegro non molto (5:15)
    5. ii Adagio (2:21)
    6. iii Tempo impetuoso dŽEstate (2:33)
    7. i Allegro (5:21)
    8. ii Adagio (2:10)
    9. iii La caccia (3:12)
    10. i Allegro non molto (3:41)
    11. ii Largo (3:10)
    12. iii Allegro (3:17)


The Devil's Trill Sonata
(Tartini arr.Vanessa-Mae & Pamela Nicholson)
13. i Larghetto, ma non troppo (3:06)
14. ii Allegro Moderato (2:30)
15. iii Grave - Allegro Assai - Grave - Allegro Assai - Grave - Allegro Assai - Cadenza - Andante - Largo (7:09)


The Devil's Trill (3:38)
(Original arr.Vanessa-Mae)
From the silent movie "The Violin Fantasy


Reflection (4:31)
(Matthew Wilder arr.Vanessa-Mae)
From Walt Disney Picture 36th full length animated feature Disney's Mulan. 'Reflection' also available on 'Disney's Mulan', an original Walt Disney `Records Soundtrack.


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A Review by Vpa

This album is a fresh, refreshing perfomance of a classical standard, The Four Seasons: a traditional classical work by a performer who has contempt for traditions. It also has another Italian, Baroque period (pre-1750) music, Tartini's The Devil's Trill, as both the original sonata and a techno version. Finishing the album is an arrangement of music from the movie Mulan, very much in the style of "Happy Valley".
It was released in Europe in November 1998 and in the USA on March 9, 1999.
An odd fact: most of the tracks are labeled according to the tempo in Italian, according to the usual custom of classical music, but two of the tracks "Tempo impetuoso d'Estate" ("Summer Storm") and "La caccia" ("The chase") are labeled by the program description.
The Laureate
Vanessa-Mae performs Tracks 1 to 15 (i.e. The Four Seasons and the Devil's Trill Sonata, the classical works) with a group of musicians called the Laureate, lead by Vasko Vassilev. Vasko Vassilev has appeared before on several of her albums; for example he was the conductor of the Royal Opera House for Happy Valley, and he was the "post-production supervisor" for CLASSICAL ALBUM 1. The liner notes give the full biographies of Vasko Vassilev and all 15 other members of Laureate. They each have a lot of accomplishments and experience. This actually has quite a lot of effect on the final music, since the instruments other than the solo violin do more in this version than they do normally, throughout the all of The Four Seasons. They seem a little bit like a jazz band, jamming together and improvising, although playing a classical music with classical string instruments.
The work was originally composed by Antonio Vivaldi in 1725, and is his most famous work as well as one of the most famous in all of classical music. It consists of four concertos, each of three movements in the traditional fast-slow-fast arrangement. Each concerto is about one of the seasons of the year: Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. It is a program music, which depicts a story. For example, certain passages are intended to convey the feeling of strong winds and lightning, while another passage is about a hunt in the autumn, and another part gives the feeling of walking on a frozen pond in winter. Long ago The Four Seasons was considered a difficult piece for a virtuoso, but today the standards are much higher.
My reference comparison of The Four Seasons is a recording on the Sony label, of a 1978 performance by violinist John Holloway, which I think is a competent but fairly standard one.
Spring has come, and joyfully the birds announce it in happy song and brooks flow at the breath of zephers with content murmuring. Meanwhile, the dark sky gathers and there is thunder and lightning. Afterwards, however, the little birds flock back and all sing anew.
The first movement "Allegro" (meaning lively) is about the birds happily announcing the coming of spring. The opening part is "Spring Awakening". Then the birds sing, the spring fountains murmur, and a short but mild rainstorm follows. Then the birds sing some more. The warbling of some of the instruments is like birds singing, and overall spirit is happy and joyful. From the first notes, the difference between Vanessa-Mae's version and the usual version is very obvious. For one thing, the instruments other than the solo violin do a lot more than usual, making this music sound much more complex and textured. The opening theme of Spring's awakening is immediately accompanied by the birds; usually it is a simple and powerful theme played for a few bars before the other effects come in. This gives the effect of lots of birds singing not just one. Timings are different, and notes are embellished. The purpose of such a different first movement is to let you immediately be aware that this is not your grandmother's "The Four Seasons", if you are at all familiar with the usual performance of The Four Seasons.
Another big difference that is immediately obvious is that Vanessa-Mae and her colleagues decided to lose the harpsichord, and do the music purely with bowed instruments. This does a lot to make the music sound more contemporary, because the harpsichord - an antique version of the piano -- is so much associated with baroque music.
The second movement of Spring, "Largo e pianssimo sempre" is the slow movement. (Concertos are generally in three movements, of a fast movement, a slow movement, then a fast movement -- especially baroque and classical concertos. Each of Vivaldi's four seasons follows this pattern.) The program descriptions in the Sony recording are different and more detailed than the poem in the liner notes of the VM disk. They say that this movement is about a sleeping goatherd, rustling of leaves and foilage, and a dog barking.
The third movement is very much like the first, but perhaps a bit more stately, and without the effects of the birds. It is about a country dance.
The shepard boy awakes, alarmed by the storm and of his fate. He stirs his weary body, frightened of the vicious lightning and swarms of gnats and flies. Ah, his fears are all to justified for thunder shakes the heavens and breaks down the wheat.
The first movement of Summer (i.e. the fourth movement of The Four Seasons) is the basis of the song "Summer Haze" on STORM. It is titled "Allegro non molto", a fast movement. It is about a hazy, lazy, summer afternoon, but one in which winds are gathering for a storm. Some passages show the winds, and foreshadow the thunderstorm which is in the last movement of "Summer", though not as fierce yet, and these early winds stop and start, and dance around. It is the longest part of "Summer"; the version on STORM was cut back considerably from the original as well as having different instrumentation. The story covers a lot of ground: first languor caused by the heat, then the cuckoo, turtledoves, and goldfinch; then the approaching winds. The winds are first "a gentle zephyr", then "various winds", then "the north wind". The movement is concluded by "a young countryman's lament". The birds, which were done more briefly and simply on STORM just by having electronic birdsong, are here represented by various background instruments depicting different kinds of birds.
The second movement, "Adagio" (slow tempo), is subtitled "Flies and Bluebottles". Vanessa-Mae skipped this movement on STORM. It is a short interlude before the dramatic third movement. The primary violin gives a peaceful feeling -- although occasionally interrupted by loud, angry strokes representing the annoying flies and insects that break the peaceful feeling.
The third movement should sound very familiar to anybody who liked the title track to STORM. Fans of her pop music will be waiting for the drums to come in after a few notes, but in this version they don't. The tempo is "Presto" (fast), but for this track, Vanessa-Mae uses the descriptive title "Tempo impestuoso d'Estate" (Summer Storm). That subtitle was given by Vivaldi -- so I was rather surprised to hear Vanessa-Mae answer an interview question once about how she thought of the name "Storm" without mentioning this fact. The version of "Summer Storm" on this album is perhaps even more different from the standard than the version on STORM was -- a matter of timing and notes being embellished. All versions of this movement are dramatic and exciting. Actually, I like the techno-acoustic version of STORM the best; the drums really add to the effect of this piece.
The hunter goes forth at dawn with trumpets, guns, and angry dogs. The game flies and they follow in its tracks. Already exhausted and wounded, and frightened by the clamor of shotguns and hounds, it tries to escape the fury but is captured and dies.
Track nine (first movement of Autumn) returns to the common theme of The Four Seasons. According to the notes of my Sony disk, it covers "Dance and song of country folk", then "the toper" getting drunk, then "the sleeping drunkard".
The short slow movement of Autumn is titled "the sleeping drunkards", and continues from the end of the 1st movement.
The third movement is about the hunt, which is described in the poem. Vanessa-Mae's CD titles this movement as "La caccia", which is Italian for "The Hunt", rather than by its tempo. On the Sony CD, the movement is titled "Allegro", with the descriptions: "The hunt", "the fleeing beast", "Guns and Hounds", and "The fleeing beast is slain" -- pretty much like the poem. The violin represents the dogs and prancing horses, while a lower voice (a cello?) represents the beast. The "gun" in Vanessa-Mae's version is the violin plucked twice; actually more like a bow-and-arrow than a gun -- it's pretty hard to make a violin really sound like a gun. Then the "beast" (cello) dies, and the violin line, going back to the common theme of The Four Seasons, is a triumpant return of the hunters. Again, Vanessa-Mae's version is quite different from the usual. Her "dogs" somehow sound more fierce and relentless; the "gun" is done differently, and the sad part of the death of the "beast" is much stronger.
Shivering, frozen in the chilling snow and the blasting wind; Running tirelessly with stamping feet and chattering teeth; Resting by the fire in contented peace whilst outside the torrent of rain continues; Walking on ice, with cautious steps for fear of falling; Running fast until the ice splits and cracks, a gulf opening.
The first movement gives a mood of freezing cold and shivering. The descriptive titles are "frozen shivering in the icy snow", "dreadful storm", "running and footstamping because of the cold", "winds", and "chattering of the teeth".
The second movement of Winter is simply titled "Rain". The solo violin gives a feeling of piece and contentedness around a cozy fire, while soft "plinking" (I don't know the technical term) of the second violin gives a feeling of rain falling outside. Vanessa-Mae's version is far more extensive than the traditional one; this movement in her version is twice as long as John Holloway's, and has a different ending. It is a very emotional music.
In the final movement, the "slipping and sliding" of the instruments remind one of ice. Then, "striding boldly one". The movement closes with a return of the sound of the winds: first "the siroco", then "the north wind and all other winds" are a reminder of the storms of Summer.
The Devil's Trill Sonata
A sonata is a musical work in three movements, but different from a concerto because it is for one or several instruments not a soloist and an orchestra, and not necessarily following the fast-slow-fast arrangement of a concerto.
The Devil's Trill Sonata is the most famous work of Guiseppe Tartini, although not nearly such a common work as The Four Seasons. Vanessa-Mae says that this is because it is very difficult to play and gives cramps to the violinist's hand. "Trill" is a musical technique that this piece uses. Tartini, like Vivaldi, was an Italian composer and violinist of the early 1700s.
Supposedly, the work came to Tartini in a dream. He dreamed that he was in league with the Devil, and the Devil gave him the most perfect violin music ever. Upon awaking, Tartini feverishly wrote down as much as he could. Thus, the name "The Devil's Trill"; also so called because of its difficulty.
The sonata is in three movements. The first movement is a slow one, the second one is fast, and the final movement is a long one that has many sections of varying tempo. The third movement starts out with three repetitions and variations of some passages of slow, solemn music including the pipe organ in one variation followed by fast violin music. Then the third movement has long, elaborate cadenzas which reminds me a bit of the cadenzas in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.
The liner notes explain that Vanessa-Mae's version of this work includes a lot of her own re-arrangement. Also, a full pipe organ has been added for effect. I'm not really familiar with any recordings of The Devil's Trill and I don't have any other CDs of it, so I can't comment further except to say that I really like this music.
The Devil's Trill Techno-Acoustic Version
Vanessa-Mae's pop version of The Devil's Trill uses the major theme of Tartini's sonata but with drum machine, electronics, etc. in techno-pop style, much as "Storm" does of the 3rd movement of "Summer". It's a powerful, inspiring song. It is still recognizably based on Tartini's work but doesn't follow it closely, other than taking its major theme. The beginning and end of the song is a phone ringing. There is also a special effect of the Devil laughing at the end.
Siemen's SL10 Mobile Phones & "Be Inspired"
The notes say that the techno-acoustic version was originally composed for an advertising campaign for Siemens SL10 mobile phone: both the "Be Inspired" advertising campaign and also to be "a recognizable ringing tone" for the phone. A TV commercial with Vanessa-Mae and "Devil's Trill" is currently getting lots of airplay in Europe.
The music
"Reflection" reminds me quite a bit of "Happy Valley" - both powerful new violin works with a Chinese theme but in the tradition of Western classical music, both upbeat and energetic though with some quiet interludes. The music is based on the story of Mulan (see below). As the liner notes say, it is in a ABA format: first with a quiet, thoughtful part about Mulan's original life, then the battle scene, and then the triumphant conclusion.
Connection with Disney's Animated Movie MULAN
This song is Vanessa-Mae's arrangement of part of the soundtrack of the Disney animated movie "Mulan". The original version is by Matthew Wilder, and also there is a pop version of it on the USA soundtrack album of Mulan, which is by a different artist. Vanessa-Mae contracted with Disney to make a new version, which is a mini-symphonic poem about the character Mulan. This new version is being shown as the end title credits for European showings of the movie.
Vanessa-Mae seems to be heavily involved with the European marketing for Mulan, which is leading many Europeans to have a wrong idea that she had a major role in creating the music to this movie. However, in the USA she is not on the movie credits or on the soundtrack album. There was a Disney-sponsored concert in Chicago in the summer of 1998, at which music from Mulan was played and Vanessa-Mae appeared, but Vanessa-Mae played a short version of "Fantasy on Turandot" and "Storm" not any music from the movie.
The cover of the single includes a picture of Mulan as well as a photo of Vanessa-Mae.
Meaning of the title "THE ORIGINAL FOUR SEASONS"
The version of The Four Seasons on this disk is a radically different interpretation from the usual, but at the same time the album is titled "The Original Four Seasons". It is "the original" in the sense that it returns to the original lively spirit of the music as intended by Vivaldi. The music of Vivaldi, Tartini, and other Baroque composers (such as Bach and Handel, roughly 1600-1750; before Classical composers such as Mozart and Haydn) was incompletely written down. The performers of their day were expected to improvise and add their own interpretations. Also, the instruments of that time were different than today's. What we think of as "standard" performances of these works are really the 19th century or early 20th century intrepretions of the music of the 17th or 18th century. Many musicians today realize that, and there are many groups that perform Baroque or early music using period instruments and attempt to recreate the original sound. Vanessa-Mae takes the opposite approach, of feeling free to improvise and add her own style just as performers of Vivaldi's time would have done. Thus, "Original".
Antonio Vivaldi is mentioned only in the small print, not on the front cover.
I think that the title "THE ORIGINAL FOUR SEASONS" also distinguishes it from STORM, which is also based on The Four Seasons.
The liner notes have long discussion about Extemporization (improvisation) and its role in performance of Baroque music. They explain that many of today's standard performances of works such as The Four Seasons are just repetitions of what was once an exciting extemporization. "The vitality of this music in Vivaldi's and Tartini's time stemmed in part from the unexpectedness of extemporization. It is necessary to remember that this music was written to entertain, and extemporization was encouraged to increase the entertainment value. It is refreshing for modern players to apply their own experience, technique, and personality to this music, bringing back a surprise element...".
The Violin Fantasy
Vanessa-Mae recently made an unusual movie that combines music, film, and dance, titled The Violin Fantasy. According to my understanding, it is only 10 minutes long and is a silent movie with no spoken dialogue. However, it is more than a music video, because it has a plot and has music from several movements of Winter of The Four Seasons and Devil's Trill. It sounds interesting and I hope that I'll be able to see it someday.


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