The Four Seasons are Vivaldi’s best known body of work and were written in 1723 and published in Amsterdam two years later. Spring was the first of four violin concerti and a firm favourite of King Louis XV.
Each of the movements provide a musical expression for a particular season of the year.
Additionally, the seasons provide one of the earliest examples of Program Music – music with a narrative element. Each of the concerti was published with a sonnet that further illustrated the themes of the piece – a notable break from the conventions of the time.
The published scores (by Estienne Roger of Amsterdam in 1725) are marked to indicate which musical passages are representative of which verses of the sonnet. It is advisable, at least during the first few hearings, to follow the sonnets and music together, for they are bound up with one another to an extent rarely heard in any other programmatic pieces either of the baroque period or subsequently.
It is unknown who wrote the poem that accompanied the seasons – they were possibly composed by Vivaldi himself. It is also unknown which came first, the music or the poem.
Keep an ear out…
Vivaldi went to great pains to ensure relatability between the music and the sonnets. In the middle section of the Spring concerto, when the goatherd is sleeping, the viola section mark his dog barking.
This is an instantly recognisable piece of music and one of the few that I could confidentally name before I set this challenge out for myself.
Sadly, this is mostly down to it being used liberally throughout the 90’s as hold/waiting music for every major utility provider across the UK and Ireland.
Consequently, I find the opening strains inspire a sort of off balance dread and no matter what I tried I couldn’t quite break the negative associations. The piece is just *that* familiar to me – every single section raised the same grasping feelings of inadequacy and reluctance.
Listening to all four of the seasons really helped. Hearing the integration and the contrasts between this and the (for me at least) lesser known seasons has allowed me to appreciate the storytelling properties of this tune. I might never love it, but I can’t help but admire it more.
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.