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Story behind "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi

The Four Seasons: A Timeless Masterpiece by Antonio Vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi with violin

Antonio Vivaldi is a genius and truly stands out as the most creative among the host of composers who brought the Italian Baroque style to its zenith. His works ooze the perfection of the 17th-century Italian opera and concerto formats.

Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” or “Le quattro stagioni” in Italian is a set of four concertos. The generalized views suggest concertos as a conversation between – a solo instrument or multiple solo instruments and a wider ensemble. Antonio utilized the violin as the sole instrument in “The Four Seasons.”

Origin

The orchestra at the conservatory maintained a high-standards under his direction, with weekly concerts being held featuring the creme de la crème of the students. During this 40-year tenure, he crafted over 450 concertos. The majority of these “solo concerti” were crafted for the violin (#220), which wasn’t very surprising given his strong background for violin.    

The composer’s interest in crafting concertos can be linked to “Ospedale della Piera,” a home for illegitimate and orphaned girls which specialized in teaching music. He was appointed as the “conservatoire director” there and being a supremely skilled violinist, blossomed.

The Concerti

A timeless masterpiece, the concerti were first introduced in 1725. It was Vivaldi’s 8th opus among a set of 12. He named it “The Contest of Harmony and Invention,” or “Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione.” Apart from harboring inspiration from the seasons, the concertos were influenced by a set of 4 sonnets crafted about summer, winter, autumn, and spring. The names of the originator of these sonnets remain questionable, although most historians credit Vivaldi for them. This somewhat made sense as Vivaldi, with his numerous concertos, “The Four Seasons” in particular, exemplified the typical concerto form.

A typical concerto consists of three movements – a slow middle movement contrasting the lively first and third. Each sonnet (in this case each season) in “The Four Seasons” can be divided into three sections, each corresponding to a movement. It can, therefore, be classified as “programmatic.”

The Movements

images of 4 different seasons

Spring

The concertos offer their own musical exhibition through all players, the soloists burning the brightest. “Spring” or “La primavera,” starts with the clarity and crispness of a typical spring day, accompanied by the choirs of birds and streams. It is invaded by a sudden thunderstorm, but the singing birds soon regain dominance. The movement ends with a lively country dance, with inhabitants celebrating the return of fauna and flora after a harsh winter.

Summer

The “L’estate” or “Summer,” offers a slow start, portraying the weather as too hot for any movement. The air is almost at a standstill, the birds chirping away lazily until a breeze gathers up, whipping the warning of an imminent storm. The most striking moment is served in the third movement, as a hail storm mercilessly rains down, offering a perfect contrast. 

Autumn

“L’autunno” or “Autumn,” makes a return to the clarity resembling “Spring,” with similar musical themes in the first movements. The country-folk rejoice once again, celebrating the harvest by drinking wine. The tempo drops significantly, in parallel to the peaceful sleep that engulfs the people. The final movement illustrates a “hunt,” taking us back to a 14th-century Italian genre, “Caccia” - where songs were utilized to glorify hunts via voice canons. 

Winter

The concertos end with “L’inverno” or “Winter.” The opening movement resembles a shivering person, stamping his feet in rhythm to stay warm. The middle movement portrays the pleasure of getting warm inside through a crackling fire. The final movement offers people outdoors walking down icy paths, while people inside houses feeling the relentless chill finding its way inside. 

The Present Scenario

Fast-forwarding half a century, the 4 concertos can now be safely considered as the single greatest sensation of classical music. The most eminent violinists have recorded it more than a hundred times. They have featured multiple times in TV commercials and Hollywood movies. From credit cards to cars, billboards, elevators to hotel lobbies, and even to mobile phone ringtones, their popularity continues to soar.   

At a basic level, "The Four Seasons" is extraordinarily authentic, an association with profound elegance and luxury. It is full of glistening and brilliant sonorities, ingenious innovations with vivid solo lines capturing the essence of nature. The most important factor that renders into its popularity is the fact that it incorporates the basic human elements – the passage of time, the cycle of years and nature. The program incorporates seasonal images and sounds spectacular, without constraining the imagination. Each season offers a “point of departure” for a diverse range of metaphors.

Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," sits at the very pinnacle of classical music alongside Beethoven's “Fifth Symphony.” With greatness so pristine, its merit will never be bounded by time, but only through the genius of its creator. 

 

 

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  • To find piano solo sheet music of pieces from "The Four Seasons" by Vivaldi, please visit our collection page, "The Four Seasons." 
  • To learn about Vivaldi who composed "The Four Seasons," please visit our page, "About Antonio Vivaldi."