The Four Seasons (Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a group of four concertos for violin and orchestra (each dedicated to a season: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter) by the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi.
|The four Seasons
Italian: Le quattro stagioni
|Opus 8, No. 1-4
RV 269 Spring, RV 315 Summer, RV 293 Autumn, RV 297 Winter
|Number of movements||12|
|Number of acts||4 first concertos of the 12 violin concertos “Il cemento dell’armonia e dell’inventione” (The confrontation between harmony and invention) Opus 8|
Sonnets by Antonio Vivaldi (presumed)
|Number of musicians||Violin Concerto (solo violin, string quartet (2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello) and basso continuo)|
|Dates of composition||1723 to 1725 (presumed)|
|Dedicatee||Count Wenzel von Morzin|
|Autograph score||1725, by the publisher Michel-Charles Le Cène in Amsterdam|
History of The Four Seasons
Composed around 1721, it was published by the publisher Michel-Charles Le Cène in 1725 in Amsterdam, along with eight other violin concertos, such as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (“Competition between Harmony and Invention”), Op. 8. Vivaldi himself stated, in the dedication to Count Morzin, that they had been composed previously: the various manuscripts found present some differences that confirm what the author declared.
“Il cimento”, like the preceding concert collection L’estro armonico opus 3, consists of 12 concertos. The difference between the two collections reflects the evolution of taste in the first decades of the eighteenth century: the concertos of the “foundation” are all of the soloist type, while in the “estrus” next to four concertos for solo violin there are eight concerti grossi.
“The Four Seasons” is Vivaldi’s best-known work. Unusual for the time, Vivaldi published the concertos with accompanying poems (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) describing what he wanted to represent in relation to each of the seasons. It provides one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what would later be called programmatic or descriptive music, music with a narrative element. For example, the “Winter” is often painted with dark and gloomy tones: on the contrary, the “Summer” evokes the oppression of heat, reproducing even a summer storm in the last movement.
Vivaldi strove to relate his music to the texts of the poems, translating the poetic verses directly into music. In the middle section of the Primavera concert, when the sheep sleep, his barking dog is marked by the viola section. In the same way, other natural events are evoked.
Vivaldi divides each concerto into three movements, fast-slow-fast, and in the same way each sonnet is divided into three sections. Two of these movements, the first and third, are in Allegro or Presto time, while the second is characterized by an Adagio or Largo tempo, according to a scheme that Vivaldi has adopted in most of his concertos.
The ensemble for all scores are: solo violin, string quartet (first and second violin, viola, cello) and basso continuo (harpsichord, organ, archlute, theorba).
List of concerts and movements
Vivaldi organizes the work as follows:
- Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV269, “La primavera” (The Spring)
- Allegro (in E major)
- Largo e pianissimo sempre (en C sharp minor)
- Allegro pastorale (in E major)
- Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, “L’estate” (The Summer)
- Allegro non molto (in G minor)
- Adagio e piano – Presto e forte (in G minor)
- Presto (in G minor)
- Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, “L’autunno” (The Autumn)
- Allegro (in F major)
- Adagio molto (in D minor)
- Allegro (in F major)
- Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, “L’inverno” (The Winter)
- Allegro non molto (in F minor)
- Long (in E-flat major)
- Allegro (in F minor)
Style of the work
Vivaldi wrote about 500 concertos for various instruments, 220 of them dedicated to the violin, an instrument of which he was a virtuoso. Four of these concertos, belonging to Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione and collected in Op. 8 (1725) written for solo violin, string orchestra and harpsichord, are known as The Four Seasons.
Sonnets and allusions in The Four Seasons
There is some debate as to whether the four concertos were written to accompany the four sonnets or whether it was the other way around. Although it is not known who wrote these sonnets, there is a hypothesis that Vivaldi himself wrote them, considering that each sonnet is divided into three sections, clearly corresponding to a movement in the concerto. Whoever wrote the sonnets, The Four Seasons can be described as programmatic music, instrumental music intended to evoke something extra-musical, and an art form that Vivaldi intended to demonstrate was sophisticated enough to be taken seriously.
In addition to these sonnets, Vivaldi provided instructions such as “The Barking Dog” (in the second movement of “Spring”), “Languor Caused by Heat” (in the first movement of “Summer”), and “The Drunkards Have Fallen Asleep” (in the second movement of “Autumn”). The Four Seasons were used in the 1981 film The Four Seasons along with other flute concertos by Vivaldi.
Sonnets text of The Four Seasons
Giunt’ è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl’ Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de’ Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon’ coprendo l’ aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl’ Augelletti;
Tornan’ di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:
Springtime is upon us.
|Allegro non molto
Sotto dura Staggion dal Sole accesa
Langue l’ huom, langue ‘l gregge, ed arde il Pino;
Scioglie il Cucco la Voce, e tosto intesa
Canta la Tortorella e ‘l gardelino.
Zeffiro dolce Spira, mà contesa
Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino;
E piange il Pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e ‘l suo destino;
Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
|Allegro non molto
Under a hard season, fired up by the sun
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine
We hear the cuckoo’s voice;
then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air, but threatening
the North Wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles,
fearing violent storms and his fate.
Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
Celebra il Vilanel con balli e Canti
Del felice raccolto il bel piacere
E del liquor de Bacco accesi tanti
Finiscono col Sonno il lor godere.
Celebrates the peasant, with songs and dances,
The pleasure of a bountiful harvest.
And fired up by Bacchus’ liquor,
many end their revelry in sleep.
|Allegro non molto
Agghiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti
Al Severo Spirar d’ orrido Vento,
Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
E pel Soverchio gel batter i denti;
|Allegro non molto
To tremble from cold in the icy snow,
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one’s feet every moment,
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold
The first recording of The Four Seasons is a disputed issue. There is a compact disc of one made by the violinist Alfredo Campoli that is taken from acetates of a studio broadcast of a French radio; It is believed to date from early 1939. The first electric recording was made in 1942 by Bernardino Molinari, and although its adaptation is somewhat different from what is expected in modern performance, it is clearly recognizable. This first Molinari recording was made for Cetra, released in Italy and later in the United States on six 78 vinyls in the 1940s. It was then reissued on LP in 1950 and was again reissued on compact disc.
Not surprisingly, new recordings followed. The next was made in 1948 by violinist Louis Kaufman, mistakenly considered the “first” recording, made overnight in New York using “dead” studio time and under the pressure of an impending musicians’ strike. The performers were the chamber orchestra of the Concert Hall under Henry Swoboda, Edith Weiss-Mann (harpsichord) and Edouard Nies-Berger (organ). This recording helped the repopularization of Vivaldi’s music in the general repertoire of Europe and America after the work done by Molinari and others in Italy. She won the French Grand Prix du Disque in 1950, was elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2003 was selected for the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. Kaufman, intrigued to learn that the four concertos were actually part of an ensemble of twelve, undertook the search for the entire score and eventually recorded the other eight concertos in Zurich in 1950, making this the first complete recording of Vivaldi’s Opus 8.
The World’s Encyclopedia of Recorded Music in 1952 cites only two recordings of The Four Seasons – by Molinari and Kaufman. By 2011 approximately one thousand different versions have been made since Campoli’s in 1939.
I Musici followed in 1955 with the first of several recordings of The Four Seasons with different soloists. The 1955 pairing with Félix Ayo was the first absolute recording the ensemble made; Later recordings of I Musici featured Félix Ayo again in 1959, Roberto Michelucci in 1969, Pina Carmirelli in 1982, Federico Agostini in 1990, and Mariana Sîrbu in 1995. The recordings of I Musici with Félix Ayo are still of reference, although it was with modern instruments.
This was followed by the recording, in 1957, by I Solisti of Zagreb, under the baton of Antonio Janigro with Jan Tomasow as solo violin and Anton Heiller on harpsichord, for the Vanguard label, again released under Philips and other labels. Music critic, musicologist and composer, Wilfrid Howard Mellers, wrote of this performance “… The soloists phrase his lyricism beautifully.” J. T. (John Thornton) wrote about this recording in the HIFI Stereo Review (October 1958, page 88):
Of all the Vanguard stereo releases, this one is the best! It has it all. Like London’s magnificent Petronchka release, this recording of Vivaldi’s “Seasons” is so good that it is almost impossible to single out a single element of it and call it “the best.” Here is an unparalleled ensemble performing, followed by Tomasow’s confident playing. Janigro reveals his talent in conducting, which rivals his considerable talent for playing the cello. Le quattro slaggioni emerges as a double triumph, that rare gathering of all forces, musical and engineering, a standard to follow, a product to be proud of. I trust Vanguard to make a lot of money out of it, too, as this is no accident. It has taken a lot of planning and good engineering. The Solomon brothers, who run Vanguard, are to be congratulated. Now, if someone tells certain dealers and dealers that “The Seasons” doesn’t start and end with hunting, fishing, baseball and football, and if they get as excited about this as I do, then Vanguard will make a profit and make more records with the Zagreb Solisti, so that collectors will be happier to spend their money on similar records. A good example of a delicious circle.
Ivan Supek wrote about this recording:
I’ll try to convey to you how much of this recording means to me, and it could mean to you, too. My first encounter with the record took place almost thirty years ago, when “our” Antonio revealed to me the true meaning of the piece of another great Antonio, his famous namesake, whose “Le Quattro Staggioni” I could hardly listen to again due to the “great” interpretations, in fact too grandiose, usual at the time, much less enjoy them. What a huge change it was – a window into a new world; music that is fast, precise and true, the intonation is correct, the continuo appropriate, and the violin of beautiful sound, in correct correlation with the Zagreb Soloists. The confident and beautiful tone of violinist Jan Tomasow relates perfectly to the Soloists; the whole performance is imbued with the spirit of Janigro’s perfectionism, letting the music and his soul be fully exposed. It has been for a long time the only recording I could hear. Only during [the] last decade have some new guys, playing authentic instruments, offered me a similar pleasure and understanding of Antonio Vivaldi’s music and with great pleasure, Janigro’s performance is no longer the only choice for me. In my opinion, this also shows that the performance of Janigro in cooperation with the Zagreb Soloists was ahead of its time, as corroborated by Igor Stravinsky, who said it was the most beautiful interpretation of “Le Quattro Staggioni” that he never heard, a statement that I only learned recently. Not surprisingly, the “nakedness” and precision of Janigro’s interpretation must have appealed to him. It was much later that I discovered the excellence of recording as well. At that time, the Zagreb Soloists recorded for Vanguard, mostly in Vienna at various venues, and this particular one was done in 1957 at the Rotenturmstrassaal. The recording was produced by Seymour Solomon, chief producer of the entire edition, who personally came from the United States to supervise every recording that was made with the Zagreb Soloists, while the Vanguard branch in Vienna, “Amadeo”, was in charge of the organization. (My gratitude to one of the founders of the Zagreb Soloists, Mr. Stjepan Aranjoš, for providing me with important information.) Janigro was a perfectionist, often ruthless, not only in musical matters but also in terms of sound, so he participated directly and intensely in [the] recording process, which was quite rare at that time. Everything with great care, all participants in the project, is widely reflected in the same recording, resulting in an aerial interpretation of appropriate space and extent, with only the occasional “congestion” of high tones in the forte sections.
Paul Shoemaker wrote about this recording:
Nothing I’ve heard changes my opinion that The Greatest Seasons of All Time was performed by Jan Tomasow with I Solisti di Zagreb and beautifully recorded by Vanguard in the early moments of the stereo era. If you have almost any other version of the Seasons, you’ll want this one, too. If money and space are no obstacle, it’s worth having.
The 1969 recording by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, with soloist Alan Loveday, is said to have moved the piece from the realm of the esoteric to that of popular programs and knowledge.
Undoubtedly, it has been an aspect of these recordings of classical musicians to distinguish them from the others, with historicist interpretations, and embellishments, to the point of various instruments and tempi, or playing notes differently from what the viewer expects (it does not matter if the composer specified it or not). Vivaldi’s work is said to present such opportunities for improvisation.
One of the first outstanding albums of the historicist side are the Quattro Stagioni by Sigiswald Kuijken (conductor and soloist) and the Petite Bande, an album published in 1980 by RCA / Seon.
In 1982, the Englishman Trevor Pinnock conducted, from the harpsichord a historicist version, also with period instruments, with the violinist Simon Standage and The English Concert, for ARCHIV. Of her they have said:
The version of Archiv with Simon Standage with the English Concert, conducted from the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock, has the advantage of using a new set of scores found in the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester, which has also added the correction of small textual errors of Le Cène’s text in normal use. Archiv’s performance also (minimally) introduces a second soloist and is performed on period instruments. The performers create a relatively intimate sound, although their approach is truly not without drama, while the solo contribution has an impressive style and bravery.
Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording of The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra sold over two million copies, becoming one of the best-selling classics of all time.
The British, who recorded these pieces in the eighties, were succeeded in the nineties by Italian groups, including Fabio Biondi’s 1991 version with L’Europa Galante for OPUS 111.
Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded The Four Seasons as well as a music video for the first movement of “Winter” that appeared regularly on The Weather Channel in the mid-nineties.