On Holidays and the Change of Seasons

The last day of Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles), and more precisely the day after the holiday, carries with it two traditions: one relies on the power of nature, the other is man-made. The latter is Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah), for the writer of these lines the most important Jewish holiday. During the holiday, the weekly Torah portion read is “And this is the Blessing”, which concludes the book of Deuteronomy and in fact the five Pentateuchs of Torah. At the end of the reading, the parchment scroll on which the Torah is written is ‘rolled’ to the beginning and the first Portion is read immediately afterwards. It opens with the words: “In the beginning …”. Such is the tradition which sets apart the Jewish folk, tying up the end with the beginning, and from the very same tradition the Jewish people derive their strength. Reading the Torah is not a matter for rabbanites, sages and others who pride themselves to be especially well-learned and thus entitled. Reading the Torah is the central axis of the Jewish people.

Nature itself is part and parcel of this holiday. The most important blessing on Simchat Torah day is “Bring the Wind and the Rain.” After the blessing “The Dew Bringer” that is said from Passover, up to Simchat Torah, begins the explicit request for wind and rain. Wind and rain have always been forces of nature that artists have tried to emulate or express the longing for them. In Israel we grew up on many some such songs, like Aharon Ashman’s song “Spirit of the Wind… An Apple fell from the tree” and of the song of Yechiel Halperin and Joel Engel “Rain, rain from the sky, thunderous rain drops.” The database of songs in Hebrew and in all languages ​​concerned with wind and rain is inexhaustible. I guess every culture and language have their fair share of rain songs.

In classical music it is customary to distinguish between works in which the music is based on an independent musical idea that emerges in the head of a composer, resulting in a movement or an entire piece. Other works were inspired by a third party, poetic or narrative text, paintings, landscape, weather etc. These works are grouped under the header “program music” which is why the repertoire of classical music abounds in winds, rains and here and there also lightning accompanied by thunderous sounds.

One clear example is the Antonio Vivaldi’s timeless work, The Four Seasons, four concerti for solo violin and orchestra which were performed and recorded numerous times. It is quite surprising that Vivaldi was not sure that the musical descriptions of nature would be understood and added to each season a poetic text. For example, in the spring:

“Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence.”

In the summer: ” The shepherd trembles, fearing violent storms and his fate. The fear of lightning and fierce thunder robs his tired limbs of rest.”

In the autumn: ” By the season that invites so many, many out of their sweetest slumber to fine enjoyment.”

In Winter: ” To tremble from cold in the icy snow, in the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one’s feet every moment, our teeth chattering in the extreme cold.”

Significant storms are made manifest in the works of Gioacchino Rossini. There is a famous storm in his Barber from Seville and another one in La Cenerentola (Cinderella). One further storm is depicted in the overture to the his last opera, Wilhelm Tell. Beethoven, who thanked Rossini for his Barbiere, imitated the sounds of nature in his 6th Symphony, the “Pastoral”. He disapproved of explanations, but the names of the movements betray the composer’s intention, such as “Shepherd’s song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.”

Following Rossini, , Giuseppe Verdi also orchestrates the raindrops that turn to a storm at the beginning of his opera Macbeth, at the end of Rigoletto and at the opening of Othello. Tchaikovsky also depicted the elements in music and composed The Seasons, a piano cycle of twelve movements, each for every month, inspired by poems by Pushkin, Alexei Tolstoy, Nakarasov and other poets. The work had been orchestrated several times and comprises several musical gems. Winds and rains are clearly present, a harbinger of the forthcoming winter season.

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

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