The Four Seasons

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) wrote The Four Seasons in 1725, each of the four concertos representing a season of the year. Written for solo violin and a small orchestra, each concerto is further divided into three movements: the first, an allegro, or fast section; the second, a slow section called adagio or largo; and the third, a concluding allegro or presto finale. When Vivaldi published The Four Seasons, he included four sonnets with the manuscript laying out the impressions he was trying to give with each season.

The first concerto, “Spring,” is in the key of E. Its pulsing pace and jubilant opening theme are immediately recognizable, spirited, and pleasant. In the second movement, the solo violin is meant to represent a sleeping goatherd, and the viola part barks like an excited dog.

“Summer,” in the key of G minor, has a sterner feel. We hear sounds from the orchestra that emulate distant thunder in the first movement, and the roar of the storm arrives in the second movement. The poem for “Summer” includes the lines “Blazing sun’s relentless heat / Men and flocks are sweltering, / Pines are scorched…”

The program for “Autumn” begins with a peasants’ dance to celebrate the gathering of the harvest, followed by a quiet resting period, and in the morning, a lively hunt. “The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber,” read the accompanying words.

“Winter” evokes “frosty snow in biting, stinging winds,” and its slow movement—a tribute to the peace and quiet of the hearth—moves into a spirited final allegro that is meant to feel like a romp in the snow and the thrill of slipping along an icy path.

ADDITIONAL FACTS

  1. The Four Seasons was originally published under the name Il Cimento dell’ Armonia e dell’ Inventione, which means The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.
  2. At one of Vivaldi’s performances in 1715, the audience was wowed by his virtuosity on the violin. One account reads, “Everyone was astounded.”
  3. Vivaldi, like Mozart after him, died poor and was buried in an unmarked grave.
 
 
 

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