Written by Kimberley Manerikar
The Four Seasons, op. 8, nos. 1-4
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons comprise an enduring classic that captures the hearts and imaginations of listeners nearly three hundred years after its publication.
These four violin concertos—distinctive for their formal design, stylistic invention, and programmatic elements—were published in 1725 alongside eight other concertos as a collection under the title il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention), op. 8.
Four accompanying sonnets were included with the published scores. Each sonnet pairs with one of the Seasons and is broken down into three sections effecting the careful alignment of each poem with the three-movement structure of each concerto.
Cited as an early example of program music, The Four Seasons are full of evocative sounds and textures. Vivaldi inserted text from the poems directly into the musical score, indicating a deliberate correspondence of certain instrumental parts or sections to specific images from the text.
It’s not difficult to understand the enduring popularity of this work; the vividness of Vivaldi’s imagination, the deftness of his orchestration, and his virtuosic command of the violin are all harnessed to great effect.
Allegro: A cheerful ritornello is broken up with interjections by the trilling and chirping of birdsong, the murmur of flowing brooks, and the tremulous growls and electric flashes of a thunderstorm.
Largo: A dreamy melody drifts over the sounds of a meadow’s rustling vegetation provided by a gently rippling accompaniment. A barking dog can be heard in the viola’s biting iterations.
Allegro: A light and airy dance evokes the sound of bagpipes and conjures reflections on the splendour of spring.
Allegro: A goatherd languishes in the punishing heat of summer. The agitated calls of the cuckoo, the turtledove and the goldfinch warn of a coming storm. What begins as a gentle breeze eventually gives way to great gusts of wind.
Adagio: The buzzing of insects provides accompaniment to a sombre melody, periodically disrupted by furious swarms and rumbling thunder.
Presto: The heavens open and a terrible storm rages.
Allegro: Celebrating the rich autumnal harvest drunken revellers dance until they succumb to the sweetness of sleep.
Adagio: A melody gently lifts and falls over an arpeggiated continuo—almost in the likeness of the chest of a sleeping reveller.
Allegro: A great drama unfolds in the form of a hunt; a lively ritornello is interspersed with episodes depicting the chase of hunters after prey, capped off by the animal’s eventual demise.
Allegro: Repeated notes and trills create a thematic motif depicting shivering and chattering teeth amongst cadenza-like violin passages evoking icy gusts of wind.
Largo: Pizzicati imitate drops of rain, observed from the warmth of the fireside.
Allegro: The depiction of a slippery journey over treacherous ice in the midst of bitter winter winds.