Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does My Dog Hate Vivaldi?

Baby Bear has a Yamaha keyboard that plays a wide variety of popular melodies across the music spectrum, from children’s favorites to classical. He seems to have a decided preference for classical music, and has favorite pieces that he’ll make the keyboard repeat over and over until I’m hearing them even when the keyboard is off and he’s asleep. Once it was Beethoven’s Turkish March that was Flavor of the Week. The other day it was Antonio Vivaldi’s “La Primavera” from The Four Seasons suite.

That first allegro evokes images of dancing and skipping through fields of wildflowers, chasing butterflies and rejoicing in the return of spring. It’s bright and happy. Who could possibly object to this masterpiece of baroque?

Our chocolate beagle, Bart, that’s who. Each time Baby Bear activated that first allegro, Bart started whimpering, then baying and howling. This upset our Bear, who communicated his displeasure and desires in his own inimitable fashion by grabbing me, gesturing to the dog, and then gesturing to the door. Translated, “Mom, put that dog outside so I can enjoy Vivaldi in peace.”

Bart was only too happy to go outside. But this got me to thinking: Does he really hate that particular tune? Is there something in it he can hear that no human can, something annoying? Yet the other beagle, Jasper, didn’t seem to be bothered by it.

So after Baby Bear went to school, I thought I’d conduct an experiment. We have Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons on CD, as played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Seiji Ozawa as conductor and Joseph Silverstein on the violin. It was part of Mr. Lucky’s vast CD collection when we got married way back in 1987. According to the text in the CD insert, Vivaldi also wrote a series of sonnets describing in words what he thought or saw in composing this quartet of famous concertos.

The Spring sonnet includes a reference to a sleeping goatherd’s faithful dog at his side. The second movement of “La Primavera” has repeated notes from the viola that according to the composer, were supposed to represent a barking dog. (At least we’re assured that someone was keeping an eye on those goats.) But it wasn’t this second movement, called a Largo, that upset Bart. It was the first Allegro that disagreed with him.

I played the entire suite on the stereo three times in a row to see what happened with Bart.

First Play: Bart didn’t make a sound. He did, however, head for the back door and wag his tail. Jasper did likewise. Of course, he tends to look up to Bart, but will quickly disavow him and go into hiding anytime he suspects they’re both in trouble. I let them outside, and they came back in during the Autumn movement.

Second Play: Bart was lounging under the coffee table when the dreaded first movement of Spring kicked off. I got up from my chair. He also got up, and wanted to go back outside. He didn’t make a sound. Out he went, and again I let him back in around the autumnal equinox. Jasper slept through it.

Third Play: Upon the return of Spring, Bart was back under the coffee table. This time I remained seated and turned to look at him. He looked back at me. I got up. He didn’t move. Clearly he was bored with my silly experiment.

Could it be he simply found the keyboard rendition annoying? There was only one way to find out. I turned on Baby Bear’s keyboard, found “La Primavera”, and played it.

No reaction from Bart.

I even tried starting it over and over, letting it play for no more than a dozen notes or so each time, just like Bear does. Maybe that was what annoyed Bart. It certainly annoys me.

Still no reaction from Bart. In fact, he was practically snoring under the coffee table.

It’s quite possible he’s desensitized to it by now.

Otherwise, the results of my experiment: Inconclusive. But I did learn a few interesting things about Vivaldi and The Four Seasons that I hadn’t considered before.

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