Antonio Vivaldi

Born:  March 4, 1678, (Republic of)  Venice, Italy

Died : July 28, 1741, Vienna, Austria

‘Spring’ from The Four Seasons – a set of four concertos for violin and string orchestra from the Baroque period, in which the music paints sketches of each season, based on poems probably written by Vivaldi himself. These concertos, Vivaldi’s Op. 8, were first published in 1725 as part of a set of twelve concertos. (Opus is the Latin word for ‘work’). A composer’s first published work is called his Opus 1; the second is his Opus 2. That is usually shortened to Op. 1 etc.)

The Four Seasons is Vivaldi’s most popular work. A recording by violinist Nigel Kennedy, with the English Chamber Orchestra,  sold over  two million copies, and became one of the best-selling CDs of all time.  In 1952, the work had only been recorded twice, but by 2011 over 1,000 recordings were on the market. Also the Four Seasons has been used in over 100 films.


Many violinists have recorded this work, and many composers have ‘reimagined’ it in a modern way. I love these! Many film makers has also used this music in their work.

Check out : ‘Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Recomposed by Max Richter’


Nigel Kennedy at the BBC Proms 2013 with the Palestine Strings – improvising with Arabic influences. 


Spring – Concerto in E Major

Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

 Ludwig Van Beethoven

Born: December 1770, Bonn, Germany

Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria

Excerpt  from the Symphony No. 6 – The Pastoral Symphony – by Beethoven. One of nine symphonies, this symphony is an example of Programme Music, painting a different musical picture of the countryside in each of the four movements. This symphony comes from the late Classical Period, and was completed in 1808, and is  Beethoven’s Opus 68 . He loved walking in the countryside, and described the work as ‘an expression of feeling, rather than a painting.’ He did, however, write a short description at the beginning of each movement, for example in the opening movement ; “The awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the countryside.”

This symphony has FIVE movements, unlike the usual three or four. And Beethoven even includes a cadenza  for the woodwind instruments to resemble birds – the nightingale and the cuckoo – in the second movement.

The symphony was used in the original animated film ‘Fantasia’ from 1940. Beethoven Symphony No. 5 features in the sequel Fantasia 2000.



‘Ode to Joy’, based on a poem by a famous German poet, Friedrich Schiller comes from the final movement of Beethoven’s last symphony No. 9, which, unusally for the time, included solo singers and a choir.  This piece has been adopted as the anthem of the European Union.


Johann Strauss, Jr.
Born: October 25, 1825, Vienna, Austria
Died: June 3, 1899, Vienna, Austria

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gG9YSaf4Mg The waltz ‘Voices of Spring’  op. 410


Johann Strauss The 2nd or Johann Strauss Junior was so—called as his famous father was also a Johann. Johann Junior led his own orchestra at the age of 19. His father had not wanted him to become a musician, but he was determined. He set up his own orchestra, rivalling his father’s very popular one, and after his father’s death in 1848, he brought the two orchestras together. It was a real family business.

Like his father, Johann became the music director at the Viennese court,  providing the music for the grand balls there from 1863 until 1871, after which he handed the job over to his brother, Eduard.  The Strauss family were so popular in Vienna because of their orchestras and their dance music compositions. The father wrote the famous Radetzky March and Johann Jrn. wrote the Blue Danube, and became known as the Waltz King, because of his output of more than 500 waltzes and over 150 polkas. He became famous all over Europe and even in America.

The Thunder and Lightning Polka  op. 324  – ‘Unter Donner und Blitz’ is the title in German. Just like the names of two of Santas reindeers! Strauss evokes the sound of the thunder and lightning through the timpani (kettle drums) and the cymbals.


Giacomo Rossini

Born February 29, 1792 , Pesaro, Italy

Died  November 13 ,1868, Paris, France

William Tell Overture

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoBE69wdSkQ  The complete work

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3T8-aeOrbg   The finale – Galop

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XSwVNBeNFw  The Lone Ranger!

By the age of just 32, Rossini had written 33 operas, and had become a very wealthy man. Just five years later, in 1815, he made the decision not to write any more operas. William Tell was his final one, produced for the Paris Opera in 1829. The overture, played before the opera begins, is set out almost like a symphony, with four distinct sections : At Dawn; The Storm; The Calm and the Cowherd’s tune; The Finale Galop. It really sets the countryside theme for the opera, and the entry of courageous William Tell. It was first used to depict The Lone Ranger on his horse, Silver, in 1933, making that section of the piece very popular on its own.

Leo Delibes

Born February 21, 1836, Saint-Germain-du-Val, France

Died January 16, 1891, Paris

The Flower Duet from the opera ‘Lakmé’ – premiered in Paris in 1883.

Set in India, the duet takes place in Act 1 of the three-act opera, between characters Lakmé, the daughter of a Brahim priest, and her servant Mallika, as they go to gather flowers by a river. It was famously used in an advertisement for British Airways. This is the piece for which  he is most famous, although he wrote over 30 operas, ballets and operettas. His most famous ballet is called ‘Coppelia.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYgzaNmI9vE    The Flower Duet

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryFyVpqbqGQ    Coppelia Waltz – Bolshoi Ballet

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born: May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia
Died: November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Waltz of the Flowers features a cadenza for harp, before the waltz really begins. This is the last section of The Nutcracker Ballet,  opus 71, written in  1892. This ballet has became a real Christmas favourite. It tells the story of a young girl called Clara, who is given a present of a Nutcracker. As in the movie, Toy Story, all the toys and sweets come to life during the night, with the Nutcracker becoming the handsome Prince. Or maybe Clara was just dreaming?


Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Born : March, 1844 Tivhkin, Russia

Died : June, 1908, Lyubensk, Russia

The Flight of the Bumble Bee  from Act 3 of the opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan. In the story, the Swan-Bird changes the Prince Gvidon into a Bumble Bee, so that he can fly off to visit his father, the Tsar. The opera is based on a fairy-tale poem by Alexander Pushkin, the famous poet, playwright and author from the romantic era.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUij8FCg0z8     My favourite YouTube Bumble Bee clip, played on a muted trumpet.

The Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninov, made an arrangement for piano.


Aram Khachaturian

Born : ‎June 6, 1903 Tbilisi, Georgia

DiedMay 1, 1978, Moscow, Russia

Adagio from the ballet ‘Spartacus’  (Theme from the Onedin Line.) This ballet was produced in 1956 in Leningrad. Khachaturian was not actually Russian. He was born into an Armenian family, in the south-eastern part of the Soviet Union,  quite close to the border between with Turkey and Iran. So, athough he worked all his life in the Soviet Union, he would have been influenced by the culture and folk music of his birthplace.  His ballet ‘Spartacus’ is based on the slave uprising in ancient Rome in around 70 B.C.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZKCLvr_k5s    Spartacus  – The Adagio from the Ballet

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmWv9-a1RSk&t=251s   –  The Onedin Line Theme

The Onedin Line was a BBC television series that was hugely popular. It ran from 1971 until 1980, and made the Adagio from the ballet Spartacus very popular, too. This piece of music by Khachaturian was ideal to portray the voyages of the big ships on which the series was based.

Astor Piazzolla

Born March 11, 1921 in Mar Del Plata, Argentina 

Died July 5, 1992 in Buenos Aires

Verano Porteño  (Summer)  from  The Four Seasons of Beunos Aires.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YEjJQ9H5bg    Astor Piazzolla playing Bandoneon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2iu9INQTLc   Tango Nuevo – with tango dancers

Astor Piazzolla was a bandoneon player and composer from Argentina. He turned the traditional tango into a new style that became known as ‘Nuevo Tango’ (New Tango), combining jazz and classical music elements.  His parents were poor immigrants to Argentina from Italy. At the age of 3, he moved with his family to New York, where he got his first bandoneon at the age of nine. He also heard lots of jazz music there. He studied classical piano and theory. He moved back to Argentina in 1938 to find work in a tango band there, but continued to study classical music, winning a scholarship in 1954 to study in Paris with a famous teacher called Nadia Boulanger. It was she who persuaded him that his real ‘compositonal voice’ was the tango.  Boulanger was the teacher of many other famous composers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones.

Astor Piazzolla lived between Europe, New York and Argentina, but when the political situation in Argentina became difficult in the 1970s, he decided to make Italy his home. It was there that he wrote his famous Libertango in 1974.


This is a live recording featuring another great musican, born in Buenos Aires, the pianist and conductor, Daniel Barenboim

Listen to the bandoneon playing of  Gabriel Merlino – Libertango


Astor Piazzolla  had his own tango band, and while he loved playing for dancers, he really wanted to compose for the concert platform, – to fuse dance and concert music.

This is exactly what he did in his Four Seasons in Buenos Aires. It is a set of four concert tangos, in the Nuevo Tango style. He wrote them for his own band, which featured a bandoneon, violin/viola, piano, electric guitar, and bass. The similarity to Vivaldi’s famous work is more obvious in the arrangement  made in the 1960s by Leonid Desyatnikov for String Orchestra.

Astor Piazzolla plays Adios Nonino, written after his father died.


The bandoneon is a very difficult instrument to master. Shaped like a concertina, but much bigger and heavier, it has a very complicated system for playing the notes. The fingering is very complex. Astor Piazzolla was an exceptional bandoneon player, and is largely responsible for the popularity of Tango music all over the world.

Verano is the Spanish word for Summer. Porteño means ‘someone born in Buenos Aires’.   Verano Porteño is the ‘Summer’ movement from Piazzolla’s Four Seasons.

Musical Definitions


 What does the Baroque Period mean in music?

Baroque’ is the word used to describe the period in Western European art music from about 1600 to 1750. Originally, the word was used to describe architecture from that time. The buildings, then, were full of wonderful design and detailed decoration. And that inspired the art, music, – even the clothes and hairdos of that period. Very, very different to nowadays! Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi are among the greatest composers from this period – the 17th and 18th centuries.

 What does the Classical Period mean in music?

Be careful not to confuse the ‘classical period’ with the term ‘classical music’, which refers to ‘art music’ from Western Europe up to the present day. This period started around the middle of the 18th century, about 1750, when composers started to focus on melody more, and a ‘lighter’, elegant kind of sound; and the tunes became very important. The style of writing changed in the work of composers like Haydn and Mozart. The harpsichord had been the main keyboard instrument of the earlier period, the Baroque era, and that was now developing more towards the piano we have today. Composers were able to write music that suited these new keyboards. Beethoven was the composer who pushed the boundaries from the Classical style of composition, and laid the ground-work for the composers of the Romantic era to follow.

What does the Romantic Period mean in music?

The Romantic period refers to music that was written in the 19th century, usually from around 1830. (Really, there is never a precise time when styles change. There is always an overlap with the previous era or period.) Orchestras, pianos, concert halls were all bigger by this time, and orchestral instruments more developed. Everything was on a bigger scale. Composers took their inspiration from art and literature, and they wanted to be very expressive in their writing.  Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet Overture’ is a perfect example of music from the Romantic era or period.

What is a Symphony?

A symphony is a long  piece of music for a full orchestra, usually in four movements.  It is usually written  or  built (musically speaking) in a particular form or structure.  Each period in music composition has a different style or structure. So, a symphony from the 18th century will be smaller in size and  scale than a symphony from the 19th or 20th century, when the orchestra had developed to a much bigger size. Even the scale of ‘dynamics’ – loud and soft playing – is much greater.

What is a Movement?  A movement is a section of the symphony, that could be played by itself. Very often, a symphony will begin with a fast movement, then a slow one, then a dance movement, and might end with a fast movement. Each movement will have its own structure.

What is a Concerto? A concerto is a musical composition, usually in three movements, in which a solo instrument performs a solo part accompanied by a full orchestra. Usually, it will begin with a fast movement, (or section),  followed by a slow movement, and finish with a ‘finale’ fast movement.

 What is a Cadenza? A cadenza is a piece wherein a solo instrument gets a chance to show some ‘flashy’ playing – often very fast and very difficult. A ‘cadence’ (the English translation) is like a sentence ending in speech. A cadence in music gives a sense of the music coming to a close. But, when we say ‘cadenza’, we mean the free-style section, usually placed towards the end of an opening movement of a concerto, or leading into a new section of music, as in the Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet.

 What is Programme Music? A piece wherein the composer tries to tell a story in music, or to create a particular atmosphere, or to paint a musical picture. Usually refers to orchestral music. Programme music was particularly popular with composers of the Romantic Era. Examples of Programme Music include : Berlioz ‘Symphony Fantastique’; Tchaikovsky ‘Romeo and Juliet’; Smetana ‘The Moldau’; Mussorgy ‘Pictures at an Exhibition.’

What is Ballet?  A style of dance with strict rules for the positions of the feet and arms, danced in special shoes with reinforced toes. Music written for this dance is called Ballet Music. The word comes from the Italian verb ‘to dance’. Ballet began in the courts of the Italian Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries.

What is Opera? A dramatic story that is sung, with accompaniment from an orchestra. This word is also from the Italian – originally ‘opera in musica’, a ‘work in music.’

 What is a Polka?  A two-beat couples dance that began in Bohemia, in Eastern Europe in the early 1800s. By the 1830s, its popularity had spread through the Austro-Hungarian empire, and then on across Europe. Many different countries developed their own kind of polka.

What is a Waltz? A three-beat couples dance, with a strong accent on the first beat. It was popular among country people in Austria in the 19th century, and became very fashionable in the ballrooms of Vienna. It was made popular all over the world, through the wonderful music of the Strauss family. There are different kinds of waltzes– the slow waltz; the Viennese waltz, for example.

 What is a Tango?  This dance originated on the streets of Buenos Aires, where it was popular among the working-class people, many of whom were immigrants from Europe and slaves from Africa in the early 1800s. It was a mix of many cultures. The music for the tango dance became very popular, too, and tango bands featured an accordion-like instrument, that had been developed by German immigrants in the mid-19th century. This instrument is called The Bandoneon. Astor Piazzolla, composer of The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, was also a brilliant bandoneon player, and he created what has became known as ‘nuevo tango’ or ‘new tango. The tango is now one of the most popular dances in the world.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (Venice, Italy) and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

 Have you read the poems that Vivaldi used for his musical painting of the Four Seasons?

Did you know that Summer in Buenos Aires, Argentina, occurs in from December to February?

Can you find both places on the map?

Which composer is from the Southern Hemisphere?

Another Day of Sun

(La-La Land)

I think about that day
I left him at a Greyhound station
West of Santa Fé

We were seventeen, but he was sweet and it was true
Still I did what I had to do
‘Cause I just knew

Summer Sunday nights
We’d sink into our seats
Right as they dimmed out all the lights
A Technicolor world made out of music and machine
It called me to be on that screen
And live inside each scene

Without a nickel to my name
Hopped a bus, here I came
Could be brave or just insane

We’ll have to see

‘Cause maybe in that sleepy town
He’ll sit one day, the lights are down
He’ll see my face and think of how he
Used to know me

Climb these hills
I’m reaching for the heights
And chasing all the lights that shine
And when they let you down
You’ll get up off the ground
‘Cause morning rolls around
And it’s…

This is Me

I am not a stranger to the dark                  Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars       Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are

But I won’t let them break me down to dust       I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down

I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised    I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come         And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen  I make no apologies, this is me

Another round of bullets hits my skin      Well, fire away ’cause today,  I won’t let the shame sink in
We are…

Down By The Bay  (From Super Simple Songs on YouTube  

                                             Primary Schools concert only)

Down by the bay        Where the watermelons grow.

Back to my home         I dare not go.

For if I do my mother will say,

“Did you ever see a cat wearing a hat?”  Down by the bay.

Down by the bay.       Where the watermelons grow.

Back to my home         I dare not go.

For if I do My mother will say,

“Did you ever see a goat rowing a boat?” Down by the bay.

Down by the bay.       Where the watermelons grow.

Back to my home         I dare not go

For if I do my mother will say,

“Did you ever see a frog walking a dog?” Down by the bay.

Down by the bay.       Where the watermelons grow.

Back to my home I dare not go. For if I do my mother will say,

“Did you ever see a bear combing his hair?” Down by the bay.

Down by the bay        Where the watermelons grow

Back to my home I dare not go

For if I do my mother will say,

“Did you ever see a llama wearing pajamas?” Down by the bay.

Down by the bay. Where the watermelons grow.

Back to my home I dare not go.

For if I do my mother will say, “

Did you ever see a dragon pulling a wagon?” Down by the bay.