The Classical Remix

A portion of Max Richter’s dazzling take on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons:

In a wide-ranging essay that connects Kanye West to Beethoven, Michael Markham discusses the similarities between classical music and today’s popular genres:

Vivaldi’s generation reveled, without embarrassment, in instant emotional gratification. Its most popular form of music, Opera seria, was not like later Romantic opera. It did not present a deep unified story in the Wagnerian sense, and instead provided little more than a series of 40 or so fragmented emotional moments, each represented by a static aria that crystallized a single mood.

Baroque-era audiences treated the productions as live “best of” concerts, wandering in and out of the theater, choosing to listen only to the excerpts that touched the right mood for them that night. Baroque composers were trained to enhance such evocative mood-experiences even when writing instrumental concertos. The constant nervous pulse (that for much of the 20th century led to Baroque music being called “sewing machine” music) invigorates in the same way modern rock or hip-hop does; the cascading sequences and recurring fragments of melody produce a pop-like repetition that pulls the listener back again and again to the same emotional starting point. …

The form of the Vivaldian concerto is based on the idea of the reoccurring “hook.” It is similar in this way to the verse-chorus-verse-chorus progression of our own pop songs. [Composer Max] Richter’s own comments on his music reveal this connection to today’s composition: “I was pleased to discover that Vivaldi’s music is very modular. It’s pattern music.” So is Richter’s, as well as that of many of the most prominent composers of both “classical” and “pop” minimalism (not to mention trance, hip-hop, dance, house, etc.) of the last 20 years — from Brian Eno and Meredith Monk to Kanye West, Gotye, Nico Muhly, and John Luther Adams.