2017-05-04 / Opinion

When Seasons Sing: The Symphony That Is Spring


A few years ago, I had the opportunity to enjoy the sound system that some friends installed in their new home. The house's high cathedral ceilings provided the perfect acoustical venue for the type of music that complemented its isolated and woodsy location. Among the several musical selections that my friends played that day was Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." Anyone familiar with this concerto can attest to the fact that the composer truly grasped what nature was saying to him using several of her many voices.

In the past, I've always played "The Four Seasons" as background music to whatever else I happened to be doing, thereby missing the message. So I made it a point recently to devote my full attention to it and to how each movement illustrates the various personality traits of each season. And aside from the human element in the form of Vivaldi, who served as nature's voice in all four of the concerti, it is purely nature speaking as the notes reflect her moods at different times of the year. 

How the composer envisioned the musical drama falls in line with the seasonal progression, beginning with "Winter," which heralds the start of a new year here and elsewhere. It's reasonable to say that, following the celebrating that many of us do to usher it in, the weather that January is famous for, at least here in the northeastern United States, tends to bring us back to our reality very quickly. From then on, we haven't much choice but to allow the subsequent weeks and months to unfold at their own pace. Winter's soft snowy strains, interspersed with occasional stormy outbursts, gradually give way to the moment when the first crocuses and snowdrops resurface from their wintry bowers.

Research shows that Vivaldi wrote several poems related to the themes of the different movements, but it's not clear if the poems gave rise to the music or the other way around. In any case, I find it intriguing that nature is capable of inspiring so many different forms of art in her zeal to get her message out, be it through song, art, or the written word. 

These days, I'm inspired to hear what she has to say during this time of rebirth and rejuvenation. Even just a look outside my door tells me that, once again, she has refashioned her message in the way nothing is as it appeared last fall before the snow moved in to bury everything. She has once again wiped her slate clean and begun anew, and so her voice has picked up its joyous tempo from the weightiness of her winter intensity. 

That's not to say that spring isn't intense. It is, by mere virtue of the fact that all has gone from dormancy to wakefulness again, and that simply cannot happen without some exuberant show of joyfulness and glee. Not only do the bird songs sound different, sweeter, more buoyant and lighthearted, but there is so much more of it these days as the sun rises above the trees. The crows are up at the crack of dawn, calling to each other, and some mornings, I hear the hoarser more grating call of a lone raven among them. 

The male goldfinchs' feathers are almost fully yellow again, cardinals are emitting their chime-like songs from a distance, redwing blackbirds chortle from the small pond on the edge of this property, while robins add their own distinctively cheerful and hopeful notes at day's end. I think that birds are nature's finest spring instruments, and despite what might sound to some as cacophonous, is actually quite organized and orchestrated. 

Then, too, there are the spring weather events that provide a symphony all their own, from the rain that removes all traces of the snow and the wind that trims the winterkill from the trees. I don't think it's an accident that wind adopts a certain cadence and rhythm from which it never departs until it's spent itself of a spring night.

But isn't that like everything else in nature, master of orderly chaos and deliberate disarray? Is this what Vivaldi heard when spring arrived, and what I hear when I stop to listen to what is going on between the sounds humans produce and that fill my days here in this woodsy urban place? Music, not so much heard as felt, that even if deprived of hearing, I would yet hear? 

It's like the words that I "speak" inside my head when I'm giving shape to a thought or an idea. It's how we humans produce all that we see around us, by first envisioning it and then putting it into words. In Vivaldi's case, and that of other composers, thought is translated into sound that only they hear and are able to assemble. How fortunate for us that nature is able to insinuate herself even there!

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