Antonio Vivaldi – Four Seasons

It’s #EarthDay, so what better way to celebrate Mother Nature than with the most famous musical evocation of her, The Four Seasons by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.

The Four Seasons is comprised of four violin concertos, each written in typical 18th-century Italianate manner, with two fast movements sandwiching a slow one. Each concerto represents one of the four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Vivaldi, nicknamed the Red Priest on account of his hair, was unbelievably prolific, writing more than 500 concertos, leading to the dig that they all sound the same. Nevertheless, these four have stood the test of time, and include some of the most recognisable and popular music ever written.

The Four Seasons is an example of programme music, which is to say it represents extramusical details, taken in this case from a collection of sonnets (possibly also penned by Vivaldi). The first stanza sets the scene:

Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are

softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar,

casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence,

and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

The soloist takes on bird song through trilling, chirping figurations, and undulating strings breeze by, before the storm takes hold in spectacular form, scales forking down from on high.

Vivaldi asks for stunning virtuosity from the violin soloist throughout the four concertos, using all manner of effects to paint pastoral scenes before your very ears. Peasants dance, flies buzz, and teeth chatter, all on the four strings of the fiddle. Working within very established parameters, though, Vivaldi somehow still creates something wonderfully thrilling, that never, ever gets old.

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