The Four Seasons Spring I Allegro
2. The Four Seasons Spring II Largo
3. The Four Seasons Spring III Allegro
The Four Seasons Summer I Allegro non molto
5. The Four Seasons Summer II Adagio
6. The Four Seasons Summer III Presto
The Four Seasons Autumn I Allegro
8. The Four Seasons Autumn II Adagio molto
9. The Four Seasons Autumn III Allegro
The Four Seasons Winter I Allegro non molto
The Four Seasons Winter II Largo
The Four Seasons Winter III Allegro
Vivaldi’s Life and Music
Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Spring
Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Summer
Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Fall
Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Winter
Antonio Vivaldi and the Italian
The seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries saw an extraordinary
flowering of musical culture in Italy.
This period, known in music history as the Baroque era, was one of great innovation. Before this time, in the Renaissance
and Middle Ages, European music had been largely religious and choral.
The two most important developments in Baroque music were
the emergence of non-religious vocal music, opera, and the rise of purely orchestral music. Italian composers led the way
in exploring these new areas of musical expression. Among other things, they adapted the type of sensuous and dramatic singing
born in the opera house to other genres, including instrumental music.
In the fist half of the Baroque, composers mainly tried to
mimic the homogenous sound of vocal music in their instrumental works. Eventually, composers began taking advantage of the
natural expressive abilities of new instruments developed by virtuoso instrument makers.
By exploiting the specific
traits of each instrument, Italian composers brought a new sort of liveliness to music in the years around 1700. Their fondness
for lyrical expression resulted in an unprecedented melodic warmth and sweetness, along with an increasingly expressive harmonic
vocabulary. At the same time, their efforts to maximize the natural expression of instruments, particularly of the violin,
resulted in writing of unprecedented rhythmic verve. It is significant in this regard that the great composers of the Italian
Baroque – men like Arcangelo Corelli, Guiseppe Tartini, Pietro Locatelli, Francesco Veracini, Giovanni Legrenzi and
Francesco Geminiani – tended to be violinists rather than keyboard players, as the leading musicians of northern Europe
the many remarkable violinist-composers Italy
produced during the Baroque era, the most remarkable of all was Antonio Vivaldi. An artist of astonishing vigor and productivity
– he wrote more than 450 concerto, 40 operas and many other solo, chamber and vocal works over the course of his career
– Vivaldi was one of the most innovative and influential musicians of his day. His energetic instrumental writing contributed
importantly to popularizing the concerto, a fairly new compositional genre during his day, and had a great impact on his musical
contemporaries, most notably Johann Sebastian Bach.
Vivaldi’s Life and Career
Vivaldi was born in Venice on March 4, 1678. His father played the violin in the resident orchestra of the city’s most
famous monument, the great Cathedral of Saint Mark. It was undoubtedly from his parent that the young Vivaldi first learned
to play the instrument himself. While the rest of his family does not seem to have been particularly musical, Vivaldi became
an outstanding violinist, as a number of reports testify. His early years also saw the onset of what would be a lifelong respiratory
ailment, probably asthma,that would impact but certainly not curtail his career.
While showing considerable musical
talent, Vivaldi nevertheless prepared for the priesthood. He began religious studies at 15 and was ordained ten years later.
A few years after his ordination, however, he was excused from liturgical duties under questionable circumstances. On one
occasion he failed to finish saying Mass and retired to the sacristy. Vivaldi later claimed that he did so because of what
he called his “tightness in his chest”, but according to another account he had suddenly thought of a good musical
theme and wanted to write it down at once. In any event, the composer returned from most clerical duties in 1705, although
he remained a priest at least nominally. Indeed, he became known in musical circles as “il prete rosso” – “the red priest” – as a result of his standing
in the Church and his striking red hair.
Vivaldi’s first known activity as a musician came in 1696, when he
was engaged as an extra violinist by Saint Mark’s Cathedral. But his musical career began in earnest in 1703 with his
appointment to the faculty of the Pio Ospedale della Pieta. This convent school was no ordinary academy. Founded and supported
by the city of Venice, it offered girls and young women a superior education that included musical training. The most capable students
received specialized instruction in what amounted to a conservatory setting, and a number of them developed into virtuoso
performers of the first rank. Their concerts were among the premier music events in Venice.
Vivaldi initially joined the conservatory
faculty at the Pieta as a violin instructor, though from early in his tenure he was also active as a composer. In 1705 he
published a set of trios, and followed it with a set of violin sonatas in 1709. But he had already begun to cultivate what
would become his most congenial and characteristic compositional form, the concerto. Many of his works of this type must have
been written specifically for certain players at the Pieta – especially Vivaldi’s best violin students –
and performed by the school’s orchestra. The impression his pieced made probably contributed to Vivaldi’s promotion
to the post of maestro dei concerti at the Pieta in 1716.
By this time, Vivaldi had secured an international reputation
with the appearance of his first published concertos, a group of twelve such works collected under the title L’estro armonico, or “The Inspiration of Harmony”. These pieces proved
popular and enormously influential, sparking a surge of interest in the Italian concerto style. Among the musicians who studied
this music was Johann Sebastian Bach, who arranged a number of L’estro
armonico concertos so that they might be played on the organ or harpsichord.
In the years that followed,
Vivaldi published several other collections of concertos. He also began writing sacred music and made forays into opera. The
latter venture seems surprising for a priest in view of the contemporary opinion of the theater world as something decidedly
profane. But Vivaldi was never one to let his ecclesiastical status hinder his freedom, nor his enjoyment of life. While he
remained a priest and retained a reputation for piety throughout his life, the composer was no ascetic. On the contrary, he
was devoted to money, which he earned and spent in considerable quantity. Reportedly vain about his appearance, he indulged
an expensive taste in clothing. When he traveled, he did so in first-class conveyances with an entourage and stayed in luxurious
accommodations, tough concern for his asthma may have partly impelled him to do so. And although he was a man of the cloth,
scandalous rumor linked him to a pair of French singers, sisters named Anna and Paolina Giraud, one or both of whom may have
been his mistress. (These rumors persisted despite Vivaldi’s vigorous denials.)
Periodically over the course
of his career Vivaldi took leave of his duties at the Pieta for extended travel to other parts of Italy and elsewhere in Europe. In Rome he provided operas for the pre-Lent Carnival
season and played the violin before the Pope. He also spent time in other Italian cities and made trips to Vienna, Prague and other centers north of the Alps. When he was back in Venice, he not only attended to duties at the
Pieta but acted as a theatrical entrepreneur, mounting productions of his own operas at one of the city’s leading theaters.
All the time he continued to write instrumental music, especially concertos. The large output Vivaldi produces
amid a busy schedule of teaching, travel, rehearsals and performances suggest a quick and facile composer. So he was. He reportedly
wrote an entire opera in just five days, and he boasted that he could compose a concerto faster than a copyist could copy
Although he enjoyed fame and no small degree of wealth at the height of his career, Vivaldi suffered a series
of setbacks during his final years. During the late 1730s a number of his operas failed to please audiences for various reasons,
most apparently related to flaws in their production. In 1738 the Ospedale della Pieta refused to renew his contract, probably
out of dissatisfaction with his incessant traveling. In light of these difficulties, Vivaldi decided in 1740 to leave Italy for Vienna. Little is known
of this final journey or what the composer did in the Austrian capital in his last year. Apparently, though, he could not
adapt his spending habits to his new circumstances. For when he died, on July
28, 1741, Vivaldi had spent all of his once substantial fortune. Accordingly,
the body of the prodigal and now impoverished musician-priest was laid in a pauper’s grave.
Obscurity and Rediscovery
After his death Vivaldi’s reputation
went into decline, a victim of the rapid change in musical taste that swept aside the style of the Baroque era in favor of
the Classical-period expression in the middle of the eighteenth century. Vivaldi’s music fell into rapid obscurity.
One hundred years later, the beginning of scholarly interest in Baroque music prompted some interest in the Venetian master.
But little of his music was known, since only a fraction of Vivaldi’s total output was even printed during his lifetime.
Most of the early comment on the composer’s music came from German Bach scholars upon discovery that many of Bach’s
concertos were in fact transcriptions of concertos from Vivaldi’s Opus 3. Still, these scholars, in pursuit of the genius
of Bach, generally compared the Venetian master unfavorably with the subject of their studies. As a result, his name figured
as little more than a passing reference in histories of musical life during the Baroque period. But as interest in music from
the Baroque period increased during the decades around 1900, musicians gradually began investigating the Venetian composer
and his works. However, his true importance still remained unsuspected almost 200 years after his death.
changed suddenly and dramatically in 1926, when there occurred in Italy one of the great musicological discoveries in history. In the autumn of that year
a friar from a small monastery unexpectedly called on experts at the Turin National Library, requesting appraisal of a collection
of old manuscripts that his order needed to sell in order to finance repairs to its aging quarters. When the Turin scholars examined
this collection, they could scarcely contain their amazement. Here was an unsuspected treasure: nearly a hundred large volumes
of musical scores from the early eighteenth century. By far the greatest number held compositions by Vivaldi, apparently from
what had once been the composer’s personal collection. And upon inspecting it closer, the experts could tell from cross-references
and missing page numbers that their discovery represented just half of a larger collection. Over the ensuing three years,
investigators conducted a diligent search for the missing portion, which they finally located in Genoa.
The Turin collection restored a huge amount of
Vivaldi’s music to the world: some three hundred concertos, fourteen operas, sonatas, secular vocal works and five volumes
of sacred music. As these works have made their way into the concert hall and onto recordings, and as still more of his music
has come to light, a general re-evaluation of Vivaldi’s stature has taken place. Having risen from the dust of history,
the composer and his music are once again a vital presence on the musical scene. His concertos and other compositions figure
prominently on the programs of orchestras throughout the world, and he is now widely acknowledged as one of the great masters
of the Baroque era.
Venice and the Pio Ospedale
Vivaldi enjoyed an international career but nevertheless
spent most of his life in his native city of Venice. This was, throughout the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, one of the great cultural centers of Europe, and Vivaldi had associations with all its leading
musical institutions. These were of three kinds: the Church, especially the great Cathedral of Saint Mark, where Vivaldi worked
as a violinist early in his career; the theaters, for which he wrote most of his operas; and the “Pio Ospedale della
Pieta”, with which Vivaldi was closely connected for most of his professional life.
The Pieta was one of
four convent schools maintained by the city of Venice, and in many respects the most remarkable of them. Staffed mainly by nuns and
priests, it sheltered orphaned, indigent and illegitimate girls – up to six thousand of them at a time, according to
one contemporary report. Music formed an important part of the curriculum at each of the four Venetian “Ospedali”,
but it seems to have received special emphasis at the “Pieta”. The school employed a number of distinguished musicians
as instuctors, Vivaldi among them, with the result that some of its pupils attained a high degree of proficiency as performers.
And while the “Pieta” hoped to find husbands for the girls at a conveniently early age, a number of them never
married but remained at the school to hone their musical skills.
In time, the musical elite among the girls of the “Pieta”
included some of the finest singers and instrumentalists in Italy. As a result, the school’s orchestra and chorus made services in the “Ospedale”
chapel one of the premiere musical offerings in Venice, an attraction to residents and visitors alike. One of the latter, the French
writer Charles de Brosses, after attending concerts at the “Pieta”, wrote of the young ladies who performed it:
“They are reared at public expense and trained solely to excell
in music. And so they sing like angels and play the violin, the flute, the organ, the violoncello, the bassoon…..Each
concert is given by about forty girls. I swear to you that there is nothing so pleasing as the sight of a young pretty nun
in a white habit, a bouquet of pomegranate blossoms above her ear, leading the orchestra and beating time with all the grace
and precision imaginable.”
From his initial appoinment in 1703 as instructor of violin playing, Vivaldi attained a succession
of higher and more responsible positions at the “Pieta”, finally rising to the post of “maestro dei concerti”
– essentially music director and conductor – in 1716. More important, he evidently wrote a great many of his concertos
and other works for performance by his charges at the academy. (Even when absent from his duties at the “Pieta”
due to travels, the composer was known to send newly written concertos back to Venice for performance at the school.) Though
a number of his concertos eventually circulated throughout Europe, winning considerable acclaim, it seems likely that Vivaldi developed his concerto
style as a result of his close working relationship with the young lady instrumentalists of the “Pieta”.
and the Concerto
Although he devoted considerable time and
effort to opera and sacred choral music, Vivaldi made by far his richest contribution to the concerto. More than 450 of his
compositions for solo instruments and orchestra are known to us, and they constitute one of the most important bodies of music
from the Baroque.
The Baroque period saw the birth of concert music as we know it today. Advances in instrument
making, particularly by Italian violin makers, and the development of woodwind instruments like the oboe, bassoon and transverse
flute, gave rise to the orchestra. The heart of the Baroque ensemble was the string ensemble, with one keyboard instrument
like the harpsichord. One or two other instruments might be added for special effects or dramatic reasons.
concertos include works featuring virtually every instrument in use during his lifetime, and he skillfully exploited their
particular capabilities. Moreover, his concerto explored a wide range of expressive devices, including echoing counterpoint,
represent or “program” music, dramatic shifts in the level of sound and contrasting small groups of instruments
with the full orchestra.
Vivaldi’s effective scoring of new instruments gave impetus to the growing preference
among composers of his day for orchestral music – more specifically, for music conceived in terms of the natural expressiveness
of orchestral instruments. The great rhythmic vitality of his fast movements, the formal clarity of his movements,, the formal
clarity of his scores and his penchant for virtuoso passage-work all were progressive developments in the early eighteenth
century. That so discerning a musician as J.S. Bach valued Vivaldi’s concertos enough to transcribe and study them testifies
to their novelty and importance.
Generally, though not invariably,
Vivaldi cast his concertos in three movements yielding a fast-slow-fast pattern. The quick outer movements usually feature
a recurring theme, known as a ritornello, assigned to the orchestra. As its name implies, this theme returns periodically
over the course of the movement, usually with some variation at each appearance.
The ritornello was originally
used in the 17th century for a short instrumental passage that served as a recurrent refrain between stanzas of
vocal works. Gradually, it came to be adopted as a shaping element in larger movements, useful in creating a memorable opening
musical idea that would lay out the basic character of the movement. It would then return several times during the movement,
usually in different keys, and finally end in the home keys. Between the ritornello’s several statements Vivaldi wrote
virtuoso passages featuring his solo instrument. The ritornello form is an efficient organizing principle that Vivaldi used
in nearly all of his concertos.
The central slow movements tended to be simpler in form, an expressive aria for
the solo instrument. In these movements, Vivaldi frequently adapted characteristics of vocal music to an instrumental setting,
writing song-like melodies for the featured player over a discreet accompaniment by some portion of the orchestra.
may not have invented the ritornello form of the Baroque concerto, but the twelve compositions of his Opus 3 did more than
any others to establish the form all over Europe. The alternation
of ritornello and solo episodes imparted a combination of variety and coherence to these movements that greatly impressed
Vivaldi’s contemporaries and remains an attractive feature even today.