Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
The Four Seasons or Le Quattro Stagioni is composed of four violin concertos that were composed by Antonio Vivaldi in 1723. This piece is known to be his most popular classical work and one of the most well-known in the said repertoire. The Four Seasons is also considered as one of the boldest program music in the baroque period. The concertos were first published in 1725. It was intended to be part of a set of 12 concerti, Vivaldi’s 8th Opus with the title “Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione”, which he dedicated to a Bohemian patron named Count Vaclav Morzin. In the first publication, Vivaldi was able to mention the count’s longstanding regard to the four concerts. At that period, the modern solo form of the concerto had not yet been defined. However, the form of the four concertos was said to have been established due to Vivaldi’s original arrangement for solo violin with string quartet and basso continuo.
Each concerto was composed in three movements, one of which is a slow one in between two fast movements. The tempos and textures among the four concertos also varied depending on the particular season it portrays. Such texture can be heard in some major parts of the piece such as the thunderstorm in the final movement in “Summer” and the pizzicato high notes by the strings in “Winter”.
Le Quattro Stagioni was composed around four sonnets that were believed to have been composed by Vivaldi himself, which was then scored for solo violin with the orchestra. Similar with his other works, Vivaldi made use of the ritornello principle in which the solo and the tutti (orchestra) sections play alternately. In respect to the four sonnets, the music manifests images of the different pictures of each season which do not only consist of the pleasantries but also the harshness of the seasons.
- The Seasons
In the first concert “Spring”, the orchestra is in contrast with the violin solo. The piece leaves an impression of birds singing followed by a storm, then a barking dog through the sound of the viola. The third movement is presented with a peasant dance to the sound of bagpipes. The second movement is called “Summer” which starts dreamily with more birds singing. The movement starts slow but with high tension like the high temperature of summer, seemingly suggesting that the people and the animals are all exhausted while under the heat. In the midst of the increasing tension, the tempo also changes and goes faster. This gives an imagery of birds crying and the wind blowing because a summer storm is approaching. At the beginning of the second movement, the tempo turns into adagio then gives an imagery of fear of mosquitos after the storm. The tempo goes fast again in the third movement all the way to presto, expressing the violence of the supper.
“Fall” is a much more peaceful concerto compared to Summer. In the sonnet, the concerto gives an image of the villagers having a party in order to celebrate a fruitful year. As the people get drunk the tension of the music intensifies as well. The second movement is introduced after this with a slow tempo as the people start to fall asleep. The third movement’s speed is fast which portrays the villagers waking up to a new morning where the hunters go hunting with their dogs.
The last concerto among the four seasons is “Winter”. The first movement starts off with a high level of tension just like the people who are trembling in the snow. The melody is very much different from the other concertos, which is most probably because winter is considered as the most dangerous season. In the first movement, Vivaldi intended to show how cold the blowing wind is and that the people are stomping their feet because they are shivering. In the second movement, however, the mood changes as well as the tempo. In the sonnet, the people are described to be having a good time sitting beside the stove while the solo violin is playing. In the last movement, the tempo goes fast once more depicting people walking on the ice cautiously as the violent winds come.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is considered as one of the most “descriptive pieces of all time”. As such, it will always be remembered for its contrasting colors, vivid imageries, and clear emotions. In this music the cold, heat, and the breeze can be felt while the thunder and the birds can be heard. In this sense, there is no doubt that the Four Seasons is one of the most popular in the baroque period.
Adams, Susan. Vivaldi: Red priest of Venice. Oxford, UK: Susan Adams, 2010. Print.