Composers Datebook®

The American Four Seasons?

Composers Datebook - 20231209


What’s your favorite season? And how would you describe it in words? And if you’re a composer, how would you describe it in music?

The most famous musical depiction is The Four Seasons, a set four violin concertos by Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi, but other composers have evoked the mood and sounds of the seasons. On today’s date in 2009, American composer Philip Glass tossed his hat into the ring with the Toronto Symphony premiere of a new work, The American Four Seasons.

Glass’ seasonal tone painting, like Vivaldi, is a set of four concertos, written for violinist Robert McDuffie, who also performed the premiere. But when McDuffie finally saw the finished score, he felt Glass’s view of some of the seasons did not quite match his own, so they came up with an unusual solution: In the published score, Glass did not provide titles for any of the four concertos, letting each listener (or performer) decide for him- or herself which concerto matched which season.

So, in this case of this Four Seasons, it’s all up to you.

Music Played in Today's Program

Philip Glass (b. 1938) The American Four Seasons (Violin Concerto No. 2); Robert McDuffie, vn; London Philharmonic; Marin Alsop, cond. Orange Mountain CD 0072

On This Day


  • 1837 - French composer Emil Waldteufel, in Strasbourg;

  • 1882 - Spanish composer and pianist Joaquín Turina, in Seville;


  • 1721 - Handel: opera "Floridante" in London at the King's Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Dec. 20);

  • 1832 - Berlioz: the lyric monodrama "Lélio, ou Le Retour à la vie" (Lelio, or The Return to Life" - performed with "Symphonie fantastique" as its sequel - in Paris, with François-Antoine Habaneck conducting and the composer performing as an extra timpanist;

  • 1836 - Glinka: opera “A Life for the Tsar,” at the Main Theater in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Nov. 27); This work was originally to be titled “Ivan Susanin” after its lead character, but as a tribute to the Tsar was retitled (After the Russian Revolution, it was staged under its original title);

  • 1842 - Glinka: opera “Russlan and Ludmilla,” at the Main Theater in St. Petesrburg (Julian date: Nov. 27);

  • 1900 - Debussy: "Nuages" and "Fêtes" (two of the three "Nocturnes" for orchestra), in Paris at a Lamoureux concert conducted by Camille Chevillard;

  • 1905 - R. Strauss: opera "Salome," in Dresden at the Hofoper, conducted by Ernst von Schuch;

  • 1906 - Glazunov: Symphony No. 8, in St. Petersburg (Gregorian date: Dec. 22);

  • 1926 - Milhaud: "Carnival d'Aix" for piano and orchestra, in New York, with the composer as the piano soloist;

  • 1928 - Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Piano Concerto No. 1, in Rome;

  • 1938 - Cage: "Trio for Percussion," in Santa Monica, Calif.;

  • 1939 - Cage: "First Construction (in Metal)," for six percussionists, in Seattle;

  • 1942 - Copland: "Danzón Cubano" for Two Pianos at a League of Composers 20th Anniversary concert at the Town Hall Forum, with the composer and Leonard Bernstein; At this concert, the piece was billed as "Birthday Piece (on Cuban Themes");

  • 1949 - Barber: Piano Sonata, by Vladimir Horowitz, in Havana, Cuba;

  • 1950 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 27, posthumously, in Moscow;

  • 1969 - Peter Maxwell Davies: "Vsalii Icones," in London;

  • 1974 - Lou Harrison: Suite for Violin with American Gamelan, at Lone Mountain College, San Francisco, with violinist Lauren Jakey;

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®