Vivaldi: Four Seasons

August COMPOSER: antonio vivaldi

Vivaldi_Antonio

four seasons 1720-1725

August is one of the coldest months in Melbourne, it’s hard not to long for the lengthening light of warmer days and the pink and yellow buds of spring. So how could I not think of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, where the opening concerti is not only called Spring but is almost embedded with it in our minds. I saw it performed not long ago and was unprepared for how intense and playful it was, and how wonderfully caught up in it I would get. Since I decided to look at Vivaldi I’ve heard parts of this piece everywhere in popular culture. It has to be one of the most widely recognised pieces of classical music, definitely Vivaldi’s most famous.

Watch Spring, with Julia Fischer and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

The Four Seasons is a 40 minute piece made up of 4 separate violin concertos: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, each of which has 3 movements. The piece is accompanied by a set of sonnets that match the 4:3 structure and tell a story of the seasons, of goatherders frolicking and drinking, open fires and ice skating. No one is sure whether Vivaldi was the author of these sonnets. Regardless, the piece is emotionally engaging from the familiar opening lines, it gets inside you and brings out all that hope and new life of spring, the long lazy heat intensive summer days, the beautiful crispness of autumn, and finally the cold but cosy surrounds of winter. It is a piece where, as with the seasons themselves, contrast fits together like a puzzle to become one big picture.

Watch the whole Four Seasons with Julia Fischer and The Academy of St Martin in the Fields

 

Irish RoadFour Seasons makes me think of is a story my friend told me years ago about driving a small fiat car through the hills of Ireland with this music on the radio. Out the window castles, celtic cross-filled cemeteries and ancient stone walls pass by.

daffodils treesIt’s chilly and damp but daffodils have poked through the wet grass, splashes of yellow running circles around tree trunks. Branches once skeletal and brittle now bristling with buds of baby green leaves.

tuscanyBut then there is a shift in space and the fiat is now driving through the hills of Tuscany, making its way down narrow laneways, through fields and into the bright sunshine and red terracotta of summer. The sunlight forms a  halo on the roof of the car before it travels further into the golden-leaved haze of autumn. The fields are ablaze with colour, the trees each one a stunning exhibition.

open fireThe little car slows and almost stalls before turning left back into the rainy, cold hills of Ireland. It stops outside a thatched roofed pub, inside we tumble out and into the arms of a oak beamed open fired room while outside the rain beats against the windows.

 

Antonio Vivaldi was an interesting man. He was popular and successful in his own lifetime, the majority of which he spent in Venice, Italy. He was a priest, a virtuoso violinist, a teacher, a conductor as well as a composer. Then despite all this he died a pauper aged 63 in Vienna. His work after his death fell out of favour and was only rediscovered early last century, when it became wildly popular again. The Four Seasons is now unsurprisingly one of the most performed classical works.

Vivaldi is said to be the master of the concerto, some claiming he invented the form as we know it today: the fast-slow-fast structure. It’s said Vivaldi’s work was heavily influential on Bach. But it’s easier to  assess the impact of an artist’s creative work from a distance where you can see all the ripples and reverberations of it. The Four seasons when I saw it played seemed as alive and relevant as it would have done some 300 years ago. It not only travels me across continents but across time as well. This is something only art can achieve – a transcendental state of time and place of being. And it’s a wonderful reminder that people hundreds of years ago were just like us. Yearning for meaning, yearning for the seasons. Bring on Spring.

TARDIS

 

Images in order of appearance courtesy of public domain, Graham Horn via CC, Public Domain, Chase Lindberg via CC, Steven S via CC, and Zir.com via CC

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3 thoughts on “Vivaldi: Four Seasons

  1. Lady Fancifull says:

    Such a glorious piece. I remember some years ago going to a small concert in a church in the Lake District, during a holiday. A not at all high profile group playing this. And it turned out to be a magical performance. 40 minutes of (silent) weeping – I did indeed enter, in your eloquent phrase, into a transcendental state of time and place of being.

    Liked by 1 person

    • theclassicalnovice says:

      I love to hear that these things happen to other people as well. Things are often popular for a reason, and I forget this all the time, and was all ‘oh yeah The Four Seasons’ when I went into the theatre. I was totally mesmerised and blown away by the performance and the music.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lady Fancifull says:

        Yes, I think there is also a ‘trick’ involved in listening to music which is very familiar, you have to work to stop the mind/memory from racing ahead to anticipate where the musical line is going. It’s much easier to just let familiarity wash a previous listening over you, in the middle of present listening. So I must admit that in a concert of a familiar piece I’m conscious of having to do work to stay present in this listening, and then see just what arises. As you say, there is often very good reason for a piece achieving popularity, because it is cutting straight through and reaching the listener. I think the real challenge is the fact that ‘the popular’ piece ends up as wallpaper in ads, used in TV and film scores and the like, or as background in cafes and restaurants, and begins to get cheapened and robbed of its power by only been heard accidentally, in sippets, instead of as a whole, progressing piece.

        It’s fantastic to hear again in context as a whole, live, with an attentive audience all engaged in the act of proper listening (or, at least, a majority of them!)

        Like

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