The Olympics have finally drawn to a close, but not before South Korea impresses us all over again with the closing ceremony. For the top of the show, they pulled out a light show that blew the crowd away. But the real fireworks began when a small child, Yang Tae-Hwan, stepped into the spotlight by the Olympic torch with an electric guitar and began wailing on it. What song did Yang Tae-Hwan play at the 2018 Olympics closing ceremony? Why did it seem so familiar?
The 13-year-old guitarist wasn't playing a K-pop song that you might have vaguely heard over the last two weeks, or during the opening ceremony. The phenom was wailing out to the classical composer Antonio Vivaldi, to the section of the famous classic baroque symphony known as "The Four Seasons," to the segment entitled "Winter." (Naturally!)
As you can see from the video below taken a few years ago, this is a kid who at 10 years old was already putting most rock bands to shame. And now, at 13, he's opening the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics closing ceremony, as tethered dancers performed a futuristic dance routine at their feet. Not a bad accomplishment at all for one so young.
The song was written by Antonio Vivaldi, an Italian composer born in 1678. He originally trained to be a priest, but soon after being ordained turned to music, leaving the church to become a violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà, one of the most respected centers for music in Venice. (Venice itself was of the hottest centers for music in all of Europe during this time period, the baroque era.)
From this vantage point, Vivaldi went on to become a violin virtuoso himself, and a composer of great renown. By the 1720s he was working in Rome, the cultural center of the day, but still turning in concertos to Ospedale della Pietà on a regular basis. In the early 1720s, the series he wrote over the course of a single year became his "Four Seasons" work with, each concerto representing one-quarter of the full piece. (Each concerto is then three sections, a slow opening, a fast middle and a slower longer ending.)
The full series of concertos that make up "The Four Seasons" was published in 1725, along with two others, neither of which went on to become anywhere near as famous.
Fans of the Netflix series Chef's Table will recognize the first fast part of Vivaldi's "Winter," as they use an interpretation of it as their opening theme.
Despite Vivaldi passing away in 1741, the publication of his pieces via one of the few well-organized houses of the day meant that his music found a way across the continent. It also helped that the German composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, a contemporary, got a hold of his pieces and adapted them for instruments besides the violin, so that they could be played on the harpsichord and piano, which were much more ubiquitous in the living rooms of the middle class, making his music more accessible.
Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" has, in fact, become so accessible, it's one of the classic pieces that's heavily used in films, as well as TV shows. Some of the more popular series his work has shown up in recently includes Gilmore Girls (Summer in Minor), Grimm (Spring I: Allegro), the original CSI (Winter) and Grey's Anatomy (Spring).
As to why South Korea would have the closing ceremony open with a piece written in Europe four hundred years ago, personally, I thought their update was perfect. The fact that the concertos are still being played today speaks to their longevity. The universal themes both of the music and of the Olympics Games make it a great match.