The Four Seasons & String Concerti - Antonio Vivaldi
The Four Seasons
& String Concerti
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto for strings and continuo in D RV124
4 Sonnet La Primavera (Spring)
Violin Concerto in E RV269 'Spring'
6 Largo e pianissimo sempre
7 Allegro pastorale
8 Sonnet L'Estate (Summer)
Violin Concerto in g minor RV315 'Summer'
9 Allegro non molto
10 Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
12 Sonnet L'Autunno (Autumn)
Violin Concerto in F RV293 'Autumn'
14 Adagio molto
16 Sonnet L'Inverno (Winter)
Violin Concerto in f minor RV297 'Winter'
17 Allegro non molto
Concerto for strings and continuo in g minor RV157
22 Allegro Add track times later
European Union Baroque Orchestra
Lars Ulrik Mortensen director & harpsichord
Huw Daniel violin 'Spring'
Bojan Cicic violin 'Summer'
Johannes Pramsohler violin 'Autumn'
Zefira Valova violin 'Winter'
Antonio De Sarlo speaker & violin
Antonio Vivaldi - 'A Man for All Seasons'
The natural world was a playground for Baroque composers. The idea of 'art as imitation of nature' was fundamental to the aesthetic outlook of the age, and composers developed a whole vocabulary of colourful, evocative effects with which to conjure up the sights and sounds of the countryside. Birds could be mimicked with charming realism, frosty mornings shi-shi-shivered with cold, and the galloping energy of the hunt was harnessed for dashing Allegros.
Antonio Vivaldi was one of the greatest Baroque naturalists. He produced a delightful variety of descriptive concertos - from cuckoos to storms at sea - but it was his Four Seasons (Op.8, 1725) which really caught the public's imagination. These novel, cutting-edge concertos took their inspiration from a set of four sonnets - one for each season - which may well have been written by Vivaldi himself. To ensure that the players understood exactly what he was trying to express in the music, he made sure that the relevant verses of each poem were carefully cued into all the performing parts. But his main ideas were clear for everyone to hear: the turbulent storms of Spring, Summer and Winter; the echoing birdsong in the opening movements of Spring and Summer; the excitement of the hunt at the close of Autumn; and, whatever the season, sleep and relaxation in all four slow movements.
Although it's the faster outer movements of the Four Seasons which tend to grab our attention immediately, Vivaldi was actually at his most imaginative in the central slow movements. In Spring, Summer and Winter he cleverly builds the music up in layers in order to paint the poetic images simultaneously, one on top of the other. In Winter, for example, the violins' warm, singing melody illustrates 'contented resting beside the hearth', while at the same time the plucking of the lower strings illustrates the less fortunate outside 'drenched by pouring rain'.
In Georgian England the Four Seasons met with a mixed response. The learned music historian Sir John Hawkins was rather impressed, and carefully explained to his readers in the 1770s that Vivaldi's works were 'a pretended paraphrase, in musical notes, of so many sonnets on the four seasons, wherein the author endeavours, by the force of harmony, and particular modifications of air and measure, to excite ideas correspondent with the sentiments of the several poems. The attempt is new and singular and distinguished for [its] peculiar force and energy'. But Charles Avison, Britain's most prolific concerto composer, was less enthusiastic: he thought Vivaldi's imitation of a barking dog in the middle movement of Spring was positively naïve. 'It would be much more effective', he mocked, to use 'the creatures themselves just as they did at the French court' where a herd of hogs was supposedly made into an 'organical instrument', oinking in a 'harmonious manner' when prodded with a stick.
The ebullient concertos which begin and end this recording may have no evocative titles, but they are rich in imagination. Unlike the Four Seasons, there's no violin soloist, and instead Vivaldi lavished all his ideas on the orchestra alone. The Concerto in D Major RV124 appeared around 1730 in Vivaldi's final published volume of concertos. Its opening movement makes dramatic capital out of the contrasts between rising and descending scales, full and unison textures, and opposing major and minor tonalities; while its final movement is a loose, playful fugue. Finally, despite it's serious key of G minor, the little concerto RV157 is an exuberant study in jaunty syncopation. Whether writing colourfully illustrative music, or simply drawing on his own imagination, Vivaldi's inspiration was wide-ranging and ever-renewing - truly he was a man for all seasons.