Vivaldi : Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons) - Op. 8, Nos. 1-4
Born in Venice, March 4, 1678
Died in Vienna, July 28, 1741
Allegro non molto
Allegro: Songs and Dances of the Country Folk
Adagio molto: The Drunkard Asleep
Allegro: The Hunt
Allegro non molto
Largo: The Hearth
The Four Seasons represents one of the most famous examples of “program music” (music specifically intended to depict events, characters, places, objects, moods, etc.). Program music had been written before The Four Seasons (which appeared during the 1720s), of course, especially in the form of battle music and bird calls.
However, The Four Seasons stands out not only as some of the most graphically descriptive music ever written, but historically as the first music of this type to enter the popular repertory. The Four Seasons are really four examples of the concerto grosso, a popular Baroque genre in which a soloist or small group (concertino) is contrasted with the larger forces (ripieno) ̶ usually a string ensemble plus harpsichord or other keyboard instrument. The formal layout of these works is fairly consistent: in the two outer movements, varying episodes from the concertino are interspersed with a full or partial return of the opening material played by the ripieno; the central slow movement usually consists of a long-breathed, lyrical line for the featured soloists.
Each of Vivaldi’s “seasons” is portrayed as a short, three-movement work of about ten minutes’ duration featuring solo violin, and is laid out in the standard fast-slow-fast format common to the age. Superimposed on the formal design of these three-movement structures is a host of musical simulations of bird calls, atmospheric conditions, animal cries, sounds of nature (various types of wind, thunder, rain, the murmuring of swaying grass, babbling brooks), peasant dances, and even an attempt to describe a man walking on ice.
I. ̶ Spring arrives, greeted by happy birds, bubbling brooks and gentle breezes.
II. ̶ A goatherd lies asleep in the flowery meadow amidst murmuring grasses, his dog beside him.
III. ̶ Nymphs and shepherds celebrate the brilliance of a new-found spring in a peasant dance, accompanied by bagpipes.
I. ̶ Man and beast languish beneath the scorching sun. A shepherd senses an approaching storm.
II. ̶ The shepherd is further troubled by the rumblings of distant thunder, as well as by angry insects.
III. ̶ A full-blown storm movement, replete with graphic pictorial devices to represent thunder, lightning, hail and sheets of wind-driven rain.
I. ̶ A merry celebration of the harvest in song and dance, leading to a drunken stupor.
II. ̶ Cool breezes waft over the peasants in their blissful, carefree slumber after the revelry.
III. ̶ A hunting scene.
I. ̶ Icy sound effects, shivering from the cold, the chattering of teeth, the stamping of feet to keep warm, and the howling of the frozen wind are all portrayed in this realistic mood piece.
II. ̶ A scene of quiet contentment before the warm fireplace.
III. ̶ Walking cautiously on the ice, then running recklessly and falling repeatedly; a brief, welcome return of the summer wind; ferocious raging winter winds resume with a vengeance, offering a unique entertainment for the time of year.
Notes by Robert Markow