Antonio Vivaldi
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The Four Seasons (Complete)


Vivaldi cast "The Four Seasons" in the form of four concertos for solo violin and string orchestra. Concertos are designed to feature an instrument which not only enjoys an especially prominent role but plays technically brilliant, or virtuosic, passages. In addition to juxtaposing the sound of the solo violin to the full ensemble, Vivaldi occasionally added a few instruments with the solo violin to create the musical textures of chamber music. Each of the concertos that comprise "The Four Seasons" follows a three-movement plan that Vivaldi helped to establish as the standard concerto form.

Gerard Schwarz, Conductor
Elmar Oliveira, Violin Solo
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

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Tracks:

1.     The Four Seasons Spring I Allegro  

2.     The Four Seasons Spring II Largo  

3.     The Four Seasons Spring III Allegro  

4.     The Four Seasons Summer I Allegro non molto

5.     The Four Seasons Summer II Adagio  

6.     The Four Seasons Summer III Presto  

7.     The Four Seasons Autumn I Allegro  

8.     The Four Seasons Autumn II Adagio molto

9.     The Four Seasons Autumn III Allegro  

10.                        The Four Seasons Winter I Allegro non molto

11.                        The Four Seasons Winter II Largo  

12.                        The Four Seasons Winter III Allegro  

13.                        Vivaldi’s Life and Music    

14.                        Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Spring   

15.                        Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Summer   

16.                        Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Fall   

17.                        Listener’s Guide: Four Seasons Winter  

    

Antonio Vivaldi and the Italian Baroque

 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 were.

 Of 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 it.

 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.

 All this 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 Della Pieta

 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”.

Vivaldi 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.

 Vivaldi’s 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.

Ritornello Form

 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.

 Vivaldi 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.