Commissioned by the Cheltenham International Festival of Music with funds from the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Royal Northern College of Music School of Wind and Percussion.
Richard Rodney Bennett’s first work for wind, Morning Music, was commissioned by BASBWE (British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles) for the third international conferences of the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles, and premiered in Boston in 1987. The scoring of The Four Seasons is similar - full orchestral wind, brass and percussion with the addition of four saxophones, piano and harp, omitting double-basses and euphonium. It is dedicated to Stephen Day.
Spring: an energetic syncopated motif provides the main material, alternating with and later accompanying a gentler chorale. A short link of fluttering single reeds ends in a rapid descending scale for bass clarinet and leads into Summer. The colours here are more restrained, the energy of Spring is dissipated by the heat. Gently rocking thematic fragments become ore extended, the pulse is increased, the brass begin to dominate until a unison link for the horns dies away into a reprise of the opening, differently scored and shortened.
Autumn: a long lyrical solo for cor anglais, built mainly on shifting fourths, accompanies by clarinets and harp, gives a little space for reflection. On analysis the theme proves to be a tone row, which has been present throughout, perhaps unnoticed: B flat C F D G E B C sharp F sharp A flat E flat.
Winter: as with the other three movements, the feel is that of a ternary form, a sparkling rising motif with brilliant double-tonguing, a more serene central section and triumphant return.
Such is Bennett’s sure handling of his materials and the idiom that we have no need to be aware, other than subconsciously that this crackling scherzando is derived from the same material as is verdant Spring and golden Summer. The rising fourths and dropping thirds give the row, stated most clearly in Autumn, a strong tonal feeling, and as with Morning Music, Bennett’s ear for sonorities and his passionate lyricism and energy make a clear statement that there is certainly a very vital life after the Second Viennese school.