08 Nov 2013

Vivaldi – The Four Seasons


by Jeff Counts

Instrumentation: strings

Duration: 37 minutes.

THE COMPOSER – ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741) – Vivaldi became music director of the Ospedale della Pietà (an orphanage for girls) in 1716 after more than a decade as the violin instructor. Much was expected of him there, including a request in 1723 for no less than two concerti per month, to be sent by mail if necessary, for performance by the school orchestra. Records from Pietà confirm payment for at least 140 such works over the ensuing six years.

THE HISTORY – Ever prolific, Vivaldi still found plenty of time to travel and compose other music. His most famous work, The Four Seasons, was first published in Amsterdam (1725) as part of a larger collection with the rather grand title of The Contest of Harmony and Invention. Vivaldi dedicated the work to Count Wenzel von Morzin (yes, of the same Morzin family that would later commission Haydn). The Seasons comprise the first four of the set’s twelve concerti and are each based on evocative sonnets that represent their respective time of year. The authorship of the texts is unknown but there exists some suspicion that the Vivaldi himself wrote them. Regardless, the three-part structure of the poetic words corresponds nicely with what would become the traditional fast-slow-fast configuration of the baroque concerto. Each musical Season is a virtuosic showpiece for soloist and accompaniment, replete with allusions to the birds of Spring, the heat of Summer, the harvest celebrations of Autumn and the bitter winds of Winter. Vivaldi was reportedly an expert violinist in his own right and he has often been credited with bringing his instrument out of the ensemble and to the fore as a featured solo voice. His Four Seasons may well be the culmination, historically if not intentionally, of that effort. The effect of hearing the entire “year” in one sitting is both a thrilling pictorial experience and a fascinating evolutionary snapshot of the violin itself.       

THE WORLD – Russian Tsar Peter the Great died in 1725, as did composer Alessandro Scarlatti. It was also a year international accords, including the Treaty of Vienna between Austria and Spain and the Treaty of Hanover between Great Britain, France and Prussia.

THE CONNECTION – Utah Symphony has programmed The Four Seasons, whole and in part, many times over the years. The most recent Masterworks performance was in 2006 with Corey Cerovsek.