(1988) for orchestra
Commissioned by The Academy of St Martin in the Fields
World Premiere: 14 December
1988, Royal Festival Hall, London
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Sir Neville Marriner, conductor
U.S. Premiere: 1991
Omaha Symphony Orchestra
Bruce Hangen, conductor
Publisher: Novello & Co Ltd
...Musgrave's engaging and straightforward orchestral suite. People are not going to stop calling a work "The Seasons" because it has been done before. The idea is inexhaustible in its correspondance with the course of life from birth to death, or in this case, beginning with autumn, from struggle to fulfillment, storm to sunshine. In the event, this is a brisk walk around the calendar, reluctant to linger on its passing delights. For all its colourful orchestration quite a showpiece in its way the music's character is more psychological than evocative, carried with driving energy by the thrust of its musical argument through four linked movements.
Robert Maycock, The Independent. (London)
Musgrave is a musical dramatist par excellence. The Seasons seethes with dramatic incident, which you can either take at an abstract or a pictorial level Two real Musgrave fingerprints stamp the piece: the long-limbed gorgeous romanticism of spring, which becomes as ardent as Strauss; and the unstoppable, hectic, racing momentum of her celebration of summer at subtly depicting high-velocity action, she is almost without parallel.
Michael Tumelty, Glasgow Herald, 01/06/1995
With The Seasons Musgrave creates an astonishing tapestry of sound - as rich and diverse as the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that inspired it. The orchestration has a Straussian depth and complexity, swept along by a romantic undercurrent that is enthralling but unpredictable. This mesmerising performance conjures up a whirlwind of sound, ranging from the simple cuckoo noises to a collage of the French and American national anthems, without once losing its grip .
Christopher Lambton, BBC Music Magazine
The idea for the work was focused by a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Piero di Cosimo's "Caccia Primitiva," showing a frightening image of fire and destruction built around a very wild and gory hunt scene, gave rise to the idea that various pictures related to the seasons could become a metaphor for the cycles in the life of man.
Thus, Autumn which is violent and destructive, stands for any impending storm. One of the main motives of the movement are hunting horns set against a restless background. They are eventually swallowed up by a violent storm. In mourning, bells ring out the Dies Irae. Here the mood is depicted by the less well known Picasso painting "The End of the Road."
In Winter all is a frozen wasteland of ice and despair, but there is one single voice, an oboe solo, that keeps a small flame of hope alive. There is a picture by Leutze which depicts George Washington crossing the frozen River Delaware. This depicts the decisive moment in US history as a result of which the young country freed itself from British domination...hence musically, a distant brief quote of "The Star Spangled Banner."
In Spring the rain comes, the ice and snow melt, and a "dawn chorus" of birds heralds the arrival of spring. The movement builds to a full romantic climax culminating in two big chords (the so-called 'freedom chords' from Harriet, the Woman called Moses). These dissolve into a serene cadence and the voice of the cuckoo is heard. Van Gogh's "The Sower" is one picture which comes to mind. The operatic reference here is to Harriet Tubman, a well-known figure in US history. She was a charismatic young woman who not only escaped from slavery in the South, but led over three hundred others to freedom in the North. Slaves escaping on the "Underground Railroad" often used bird calls to signal each other.
Summer is fulfillment and celebration. At the start, a bright and sparkling C major heard against bitonal D major brass sets the scene. Distant sounds of thunder eventually erupt in to a brief storm. An anarchic section ensues and a mixture of the summer motives, "The Marseillaise," (Van Gogh's "Le 14 juillet à Paris"), a fuller version of "The Star Spangled Banner" (Jasper Johns' "Flag"), and the 'Freedom chords' all come together and fight for precedence. The summer motives prevail and the movement ends with a feeling of rejoicing and fulfillment. These pictures of flags thus not only suggest the National anthems of the USA and of France. (July 4th and 14th obviously, and thus summer), but also the Johns represents the culmination of Washington successfully negotiating the river Delaware.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Thea Musgrave, conductor
Cala CACD 1023
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Nicholas Kraemer, conductor
Collins Classics 1529-2
NMC Ancora series NMC DO74
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