The Music Plays On — Vivaldi The Four Seasons

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Portrait of Antonio Vivaldi, ca. 1723

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) are now thought of as two pillars of the Baroque era, but when they were both alive, only Vivaldi was widely known. Vivaldi’s music was published and performed throughout Europe. Even Bach greatly admired his music, transcribing and orchestrating quite a few of Vivaldi’s violin concertos for various other instruments.

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First page of Bach’s 1714–1716 autograph of BWV 596, his organ transcription of Vivaldi’s double violin concerto Op. 3 №11.

From the moment Le quattro stagione (The Four Seasons) was published in Amsterdam in 1725 they were known to a wide audience. These four violin concertos, together with eight additional concertos, were published under the title, Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention) Op. 8, and have remained incredibly popular since then. Here are six of the other concertos in Op. 8.

Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, Op. 8 Nos. 7–12

However, one of the things that truly set The Four Seasons apart from the other concertos in his Opus 8 is something few people get to experience in modern day performances or are even aware exists. For each of the seasons, there is an accompanying sonnet, which was written most likely by Vivaldi himself. These sonnets beautifully describe each season of the year, and the music perfectly corresponds to these sonnets, making The Four Seasons one of the first examples of program music, music that has a specific extra-musical meaning.

Please read the sonnet first before listening to the accompanying concerto.

Spring

Spring

Summer

Summer

Autumn

Autumn

Winter

Winter

And I leave you with one of the most daring and imagined performances I’ve ever seen — A staged version of The Four Seasons by the violinist, Midori Seiler, and the amazing ensemble, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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