Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons make a strong case as the Western canon’s most universally familiar music. Such widespread popularity is a double-edged sword: The Four Seasons’s ubiquity in popular culture has too often presented as harmless background music a fiendishly inventive work by a composer of terrific originality.
The concertos that make up The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) appeared as the first four of twelve violin concertos published as Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest between Harmony and Invention), Opus 8. Vivaldi composed them to accompany a set of four sonnets—“La primavera,” “L’estate,” “L’autunno,” and “L’inverno”—whose authorship is uncertain but generally attributed to Vivaldi himself. The sonnets’ tripartite structures align with the three movements of each concerto, which in turn provide vivid musical depictions of the corresponding text.
The Four Seasons evinces Vivaldi’s importance to the development of the Baroque concerto. His contributions to the genre, which total more than five hundred, defined the concerto form as a dialog between soloist and ensemble and established certain formal characteristics as standards in concerto writing. (They also established the concerto as a vehicle for instrumental virtuosity—fittingly so, given Vivaldi’s stature as one of the finest violinists of his generation; more than two hundred of Vivaldi’s concertos are for violin.) Vivaldi’s concertos served as significant models for no less than Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, among other major works of the Baroque period.
But of equal importance to the formal innovations manifested in works like The Four Seasons are the breadth of their dramatic character and the extent of Vivaldi’s vision in imagining the expressive potential of the concerto form. The Four Seasons concertos are remarkable for their illustration of their subject matter, whether in depicting hunting horns and guns in “Autumn” or in the chilling texture of “Winter”, mimetic of the “cold in the icy snow/In the harsh breath of a horrid wind.”
Patrick Castillo ©2016
About This Program
Back by popular demand, Ruggero Allifranchini performs Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, this time with Artistic Partner Richard Egarr directing from the harpsichord. The spontaneity and creativity of these two artists are sure to delight SPCO audiences. Egarr also explores lesser known Baroque works including an early 17th century sonata full of harmonic surprises by Italian composer Dario Castello and a beautiful sonata by German composer Georg Muffat from his Armonico tributo.