The Four Seasons, Italian Le quattro stagioni, group of four violin concerti by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives a musical expression to a season of the year. They were written about 1720 and were published in 1725 ( Amsterdam ), together with eight additional violin concerti, as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (“The Contest Between Harmony and Invention”). Background information on the Four Seasons and Vivaldi. From being a genius, admired during his lifetime, to his forgotten and impoverished death far from home, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) savored all facets of a great artist’s biography. During this period Vivaldi wrote the Four Seasons, four violin concertos that give musical expression to the seasons of the year. Though three of the concerti are wholly original, the first, 'Spring', borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of Vivaldi's contemporaneous opera Il Giustino. The Four Seasons. Antonio Vivaldi. Solo violin, violins, violas, cellos, basses. Notes by James Keays. As a descriptive basis for his Four Seasons, Vivaldi took four Sonnets, apparently written by himself. Each of the four sonnets is expressed in a concerto, which in turn is divided into three phrases or ideas, reflected in the three movements (fast-slow-fast) of each concerto. The published scores (by Estienne Roger of Amsterdam in 1725) are.
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The Four Seasons, Italian Le quattro stagioni, group of four violinconcerti by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives a musical expression to a season of the year. They were written about 1720 and were published in 1725 (Amsterdam), together with eight additional violin concerti, as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (“The Contest Between Harmony and Invention”).
The Four Seasons is the best known of Vivaldi’s works. Unusually for the time, Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying poems (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) that elucidated what it was about those seasons that his music was intended to evoke. It provides one of the earliest and most-detailed examples of what was later called program music—music with a narrative element.
Vivaldi took great pains to relate his music to the texts of the poems, translating the poetic lines themselves directly into the music on the page. In the middle section of the Springconcerto, where the goatherd sleeps, his barking dog can be marked in the viola section. Other natural occurrences are similarly evoked. Vivaldi separated each concerto into three movements, fast-slow-fast, and likewise each linked sonnet into three sections. His arrangement is as follows:
Spring (Concerto No. 1 in E Major)
Spring has arrived with joy
Welcomed by the birds with happy songs,
And the brooks, amidst gentle breezes,
Murmur sweetly as they flow.
The sky is caped in black, and
Thunder and lightning herald a storm
When they fall silent, the birds
Take up again their delightful songs.
Largo e pianissimo sempre
And in the pleasant, blossom-filled meadow,
To the gentle murmur of leaves and plants,
The goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
To the merry sounds of a rustic bagpipe,
Nymphs and shepherds dance in their beloved spot
When Spring appears in splendour.
Summer (Concerto No. 2 in G Minor)
Allegro non molto
Under the merciless sun of the season
Languishes man and flock, the pine tree burns.
The cuckoo begins to sing and at once
Join in the turtledove and the goldfinch.
A gentle breeze blows, but Boreas
Is roused to combat suddenly with his neighbour,
And the shepherd weeps because overhead
Hangs the fearsome storm, and his destiny.
His tired limbs are robbed of rest
By his fear of the lightning and the frightful thunder
And by the flies and hornets in furious swarms.
Alas, his fears come true:
There is thunder and lightning in the heavens
And the hail cuts down the tall ears of grain.
Autumn (Concerto No. 3 in F Major)Winter (Concerto No. 4 in F Minor)
The peasant celebrates with dancing and singing
The pleasure of the rich harvest,
And full of the liquor of Bacchus
They end their merrymaking with a sleep.
All are made to leave off dancing and singing
By the air which, now mild, gives pleasure
And by the season, which invites many
To find their pleasure in a sweet sleep.
The hunters set out at dawn, off to the hunt,
With horns and guns and dogs they venture out.
The beast flees and they are close on its trail.
Already terrified and wearied by the great noise
Of the guns and dogs, and wounded as well
It tries feebly to escape, but is bested and dies.
Born in Venice, Italy, March 4, 1678; died in Vienna, Austria, July 28, 1741
So popular is Vivaldi's The Four Seasons today that it seems incomprehensible that these four delightful concertos should have languished in the musical attic for more than 200 years before re-appearing around 1950, just in time for the invention of the long-playing record. For it was the LP that spread the Seasons' fame throughout the world, making it probably the most recorded classical work of them all.
How Vivaldi would have loved all those royalties! After a long and illustrious career in which he composed some 800 works — including 500 concertos for virtually every instrument extant in his time, as well as operas and church music — he died a pauper in 1741 in Vienna, far from his native Venice. But in his prime, he was a celebrated violin virtuoso, and his dynamic concertos influenced many other contemporary composers, including J. S. Bach.
By the 1720s, Vivaldi was devoting some of his time to the service of Count Wenzeslaus von Morzin of Bohemia. In 1725, he dedicated a remarkable new publication of 12 concertos, entitled Ilcimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione ('The Trial of Harmony and Invention'), to the Count — the first four of these concertos being TheFour Seasons. But scholars believe the Seasons were actually composed a few years earlier, probably around 1720, making them contemporaries of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos.
Although Vivaldi had written other concertos with colorful titles, the Seasons took descriptive writing several steps farther by graphically illustrating four sonnets, possibly written by Vivaldi himself, which are included in the original printed edition. Moreover, Vivaldi added verbal cues in the scores so performers would know exactly what they were representing: whether a barking dog in the second movement of “Spring” or a drunkard wobbling through the first movement of “Autumn.”
Here are a few highlights to listen for in each concerto.
“Spring” (E Major) is viewed, along with “Autumn,” as a benign season in which Mother Nature brings unclouded happiness to humankind. Its opening movement features enchanting birdsong for the soloist and two other solo violins. According to the accompanying sonnet, the slow movement describes a goatherd slumbering in the fields; listen for the “woof-woof” of his watchful dog in the violas. The final Allegro is a pastoral bagpipe dance in a rustic meter with the lower strings providing the drone.
In G minor, “Summer” is the most threatening of the seasons. Its imaginative opening movement is a portrait of summer's breathless heat, with rumbles of a thunderstorm in the distance. The soloist imitates the rapid song of the cuckoo and later the turtledove and goldfinch. We hear the background buzz of insects in the slow movement as the peasant sleeps restlessly, fearing the coming storm that might damage his crops. In the last movement, the storm finally breaks with all the fury Vivaldi could muster from his small ensemble.
The bountiful harvests of “Autumn” (in the traditional hunting-horn key of F Major) are celebrated by a sober peasant-dance ritornello in the first movement. But the soloist has drunk far too much, and his inebriated antics provide delightful virtuoso opportunities. Vivaldi wrote in the slow movement's score that this is the sleep of the drunken revelers; the harpsichord takes the foreground over muted strings. The most fascinating movement is the last: a detailed scenario of an autumn hunt with the horses' stately prancing, the baying dogs, rattling gunfire, and the soloist as the fleeing stag, who dies just before the final ritornello.
In F minor, “Winter” is another menacing season. Vivaldi may be recalling here the terrible winter of 1708–9 when Venice's lagoon froze over. In an extraordinary opening movement, the chattering instruments enter one by one, piling up harsh dissonances to evoke the bitter cold. By contrast, the slow movement in warm E-flat Major conjures up the cozy atmosphere indoors by the fire, with the pattering raindrops outside imitated by plucked violins. The final Allegro describes people walking slowly on the ice, then quickly with frequent falls. As the string winds blow, the music reminds us that winter also brings pleasure as well as discomfort.
Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2018