Looking at yet another recording of Vivaldi’s now ubiquitous Four Seasons reminds me of the first time I encountered the work. Two of our local FM stations each had an hour of classical music each night, and there it was, taking up the entire program, or at least most of it.
At the end of the piece, the announcer came on, leaving me to exclaim, “Who was that? Never heard of him.” A nobody composer, then. (Actually, I think my reaction was more graphic. In those days, I wanted BIG NAMES.)
A month later, the same thing.
And a month after that, the reaction continued.
I must have been a sophomore in high school. By my senior year, Vivaldi had gained enough traction to have one of the Four Seasons concertos be included in a Cincinnati May Festival concert I attended (Robert Shaw conducting), and even Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic had recorded an all-Vivaldi album that was a mainstay of my budding collection.
How times have changed.
I remember, too, discovering Mahler through a Boston Symphony recording under Erich Leinsdorf, probably about the same time. By my senior year of college, Mahler had gained enough visibility that I heard two live performances of his Fifth Symphony, one by an Indiana University orchestra and the other by the Cincinnatians under Max Rudolf – and that was within a span of one month.
Now that Mahler and Vivaldi are regulars in the repertoire, I keep hoping for a similar discovery of John Knowles Paine, George Whitefield Chadwick, Amy Beach, and their American Romantic-era colleagues.
Yes, times and tastes can change. There’s so much more to discover and embrace.