b. March 4, 1678 / Venice, Italy
d. July 28, 1741 / Vienna, Austria
Le quattro stagione / The Four Seasons
It is hard to imagine, but there was a time, not so very long ago, that Antonio Vivaldi was viewed as just another obscure composer of the baroque-era. Today, there are more than 1000 recordings of his most famous work, the set of four violin concertos known as Le quattro stagione - The Four Seasons. The earliest released recording of The Four Seasons dates from a French radio broadcast in the mid 1930s. The Italian conductor Bernardino Molinari led a recording session for six double-sided 78 rpm discs, released in 1942. And shortly after WWII, the American violinist Louis Kaufman led the movement to the long-playing, 33 rpm records that would catapult Vivaldi to classical rock star status. In popular culture, there have been at least 100 different films and television shows that have used Vivaldi's Four Seasons in some way. Its success undoubtedly prompted the re-discovery of Vivaldi’s copious output of more than 500 concertos!
Vivaldi was inspired to create The Four Seasons by the landscape paintings of a fellow Venetian, the artist Marco Ricci. Using scenes of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter as his inspiration, he composed the set in the early 1720s, and they were published in 1725 as part of a collection titled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Test of Harmony and Invention). It was not unusual for composers of the Baroque era to imitate words in music – a reference to “rising” in a song might elicit a melody moving upwards for instance – but in The Four Seasons, Vivaldi took the practice to a new level. A series of sonnets provide a kind of storyline for each of the concertos, with a fairly clear description of Nymphs and Shepherd, Countryfolk, Bagpipers and Huntsmen interacting with wildlife and the force of nature. A summary of the sonnets appears below, as well as at the accompanying passages of the video performance. You’ll be sure to hear the imitative call of the birds, the bark of a shepherd’s dog, the hunting party riding out, and the chattering of teeth from a winter wind!
Spring (Concerto in E Major, RV229)
Spring has arrived, and joyfully the birds greet her with glad song, while at Zephyr's breath the streams flow forth with a sweet murmur.
Her chosen heralds, thunder and lightning, come to envelop the air in a black cloak; once they have fallen silent, the little birds return anew to their melodious incantation:
II Largo e pianissimo sempre
then on the pleasant, flower-strewn meadow, to the happy murmur of fronds and plants, the goatherd sleeps next to his trusty dog.
III Danza pastorale: Allegro
To the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds dance beneath the beloved sky at the glorious appearance of spring
Summer (Concerto in G minor, RV315)
I Allegro non molto
In a harsh season burned by the sun, man and flock languish, and the pine tree is scorched; the cuckoo unleashes its voice, and soon we hear the songs of the
turtle-dove and the goldfinch.
Sweet Zephyr blows, but Boreas (the North wind) suddenly opens a dispute with his neighbour; and the shepherd laments his fate for he fears a fierce squall is coming.
II Adagio – Presto
His weary limbs are robbed of rest by his fear of fierce thunder and lightning and by the furious swarm of flies and blowflies.
Alas, his fears are only too real: the sky fills with thunder and lightning, and hailstones hew off the heads of proud cornstalks.
Autumn (Concerto in F Major, RV 293)
The countryman celebrates with dance and song the sweet pleasure of a good harvest, and many, fired by the liquor of Bacchus...end their enjoyment by falling asleep.
II Adagio molto
Everyone is made to abandon singing and dancing by the temperate air, which gives pleasure, and by the season, which invites so many to enjoy the sweetness of sleep.
The huntsmen come out at the crack of dawn with their horns, guns and hounds;
the quarry flees and they track it; terrified and tired out by the great noise of the guns and hounds... the wounded beast makes a feeble effort to flee but dies in agony.
Winter (Concerto in F Minor, RV 297)
I Allegro non molto
To shiver, frozen, amid icy snow in the bitter blast of a horrible wind; to run, constantly stamping one's feet; and to feel one's teeth chatter on account of the excessive cold;
to spend restful, happy days at the fireside while the rain outside drenches a good hundred;
to walk on the ice, and with slow steps to move about cautiously for fear of falling; to go fast, to slip and fall down; to go on the ice again and run fast until the ice cracks and opens up; to hear coming out of the iron gates...Sirocco, Boreas and all the winds at war: that's winter, but of a kind to gladden one's heart.
Notes: Matthew Baird
VIVALDI The Four Seasons
Nicholas Wright, Violin Soloist & Leader
Ron and Ardelle Cliff Chair
Timothy Steeves, Associate Concertmaster
William and Irene McEwen Chair
Ashley Plaut, Acting Assistant Principal
Xue Feng Wei
Andrew Brown, Acting Principal
Jacob van der Sloot
Henry Shapard, Principal
Nezhat and Hassan Khosrowshahi Chair
Zoltan Rozsnyai, Assistant Principal
Gerhard and Adriane Bruendl Chair
Evan Hulbert, Associate Principal
Noah Reitman, Assistant Principal
* Extra Musician