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ClassicsOnline Home » VIVALDI: 4 Seasons (The) / Concerto alla Rustica
By Stephen Eddins
American Record Guide/Fanfare
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons (Le Quattro Stagioni) Opus 8 Nos. 1-4
Spring (La Primavera)
Largo e pianissimo sempre
Danza pastorale: Allegro
Allegro non molto
Allegro non molto
Concerto alla rustica in G Major, RV 151
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678, the grandson of
a baker and son of a man who combined the trades of musician and barber. He was
to spend the greater part of his life in his native city, where, from the colour
of his hair rather than any political inclination, he was known as "il prete
rosso", the red priest. He had been ordained in 1703, when he was
appointed violin-master at the Ospedale della Pieta. One of the four
establishments in Venice for the education of girls who were orphans,
illegitimate or indigent. The institutions were famous for their music in a
city that had always attracted many visitors, in addition to its own
enthusiastic musical public.
Vivaldi continued to work at the Pieta with relatively
little interruption. He was able to combine his duties with those of impresario
and composer at the theatre of S. Angelo from 1714, and left the Pieta in 1718
to serve briefly as maestro da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. By
1723 he was back again at the Pieta with a commission to compose and direct the
performance of two concertos a month. Meanwhile his reputation had spread
widely abroad both as a virtuoso performer on the Violin and as a composer. In
1730 he visited Bohemia and in 1738 led an orchestra in Amsterdam for the
centenary of the Schouwberg Theatre. In Italy his operas had been performed in Verona
and in Ferrara, as well as in Venice, where they had continued success.
In 1740 the records of the Pieta show Vivaldi's impending
departure, and the sale to the institution of 20 concertos. We next hear of him
in Vienna, where there is a record of the sale of more compositions to Count
Antonio Vinciguerra on 28 June, 1741. A month later he was dead, to be given,
like Mozart 50 years later, a poor man's funeral. At the height of his fame he
had earned large sums of money, and one must suspect that his later poverty was
due not to simple extravagance but to the changes of fashion and to his
involvement in the expensive and risky business of opera.
Vivaldi was prolific, composing vast quantities of instrumental
and vocal music and nearly 50 operas. Of the 500 concertos he wrote the most
popular in his life-time as today were the four known as Le Quattro Stagioni – The
Four Seasons, works that had circulated widely in manuscript before being
published in Amsterdam in 1725 when explanatory poems were added to clarify the
programme of each concerto. The set was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, a
cousin of Haydn's first patron. The title page describes Vivaldi himself as the
Count's "maestro in Italia', as "Maestro de' Concerti" of the
Pieta, as well as "Maestro di Capella di Camera" of Prince Philip,
Land grave of Hesse-Darmstadt.
The first concerto, Spring, opens with the cheerful song of
the birds that welcomes the season, followed by the gentle murmur of streams
fanned by the breeze: there is thunder and lightning, and then the birds resume
their song, represented by the solo violin assisted by two other solo violins.
The second movement shows the goat-herd asleep, while the
viola serves as a watch-dog, barking regularly in each bar against the murmur
of the foliage. A pastoral dance brings more activity, to the sound of the
bag-pipe, interrupted by a section for the solo violin that seems to breathe
the sultry heat of coming summer.
Summer itself is a time of languor – "langue l'uomo,
langue 'l gregge ed arde il Pino", as the introductory sonnet puts it. The
music grows more energetic as the cuckoo sings, then the turtle-dove and the
goldfinch. The wind rises and the shepherds are anxious, with some musical
justification. In the slow movement their rest is disturbed by thunder and
lightning and there are troublesome flies, and in the final movement the fears
of thunder are realised as a storm batters the crops.
Autumn opens with the dance and song of the country-people,
in work that has much of the artifice of the traditional pastoral convention.
This is a celebration of the harvest, with an excess of wine bringing sleep at
the end, to pervade the second movement. The third movement brings the hunt at
dawn, with the huntsman's horn, the sound of dogs and guns. An animal takes
flight and is pursued and dies in the fatigue of the chase.
The last of the seasons, Winter, brings cold winds, the
stamping of feet and chattering teeth. The slow movement shelters by the warmth
of the fireside, while the rain falls outside, and the last movement of this
eventful history shows people walking carefully on ice, slipping and falling
and running in case the ice breaks. The winds are at war, but there is sport to
The Concerto alla rustica in G major is in the usual three
movements, with no detailed descriptive programme. Commentators have drawn
attention to the anticipation of later Viennese practice in the minor key
conclusion to an otherwise major key first movement. The work is in the form of
a ripieno concerto, scored for strings, with no solo violin, and with two oboes
added in the final movement.
Takako Nishizaki is one of Japan's finest violinists. After
studying with her father, Shinji Nishizaki, she became the first student of
Shinichi Suzuki, the creator of the famous Suzuki Method of teaching children
to play the violin. Subsequently she went to Japan's famous Toho School of
Music and to Juilliard in the United States, where she studied with Joseph
Takako Nishizaki won Second Prize in the 1964 Leventritt
International Competition (First Prize went to Itzhak Perlman), First Prize in
the 1967 Juilliard Concerto Competition (with Japan's Nobuko Imai, the
well-known violist) and several awards in lesser competitions. She was only the
second student at Juilliard, after Michael Ratsin, to win her school's coveted Firtz
Kleisler Scholarship, established by the great violinist himself.
Miss Nishizaki has performed as soloist at the festivals of Bath,
Spoleto, Sofia, Costa Verde, Hong Kong, Chautauqua and Berlin. She has toured Germany,
Australia, Bulgaria and the USSR in addition to giving hundreds of concerts
in the United States, Canada, her native Japan and South East Asia. She has
appeared on nation-wide television in the United States (NBC's Bell Telephone
Hour), Japan (NHK) and China (China Central Television, Beijing).
Takako Nishizaki is one of the most frequently recorded
violinists in the world today. She has recorded Grieg's Sonatas for Violin and
Piano (RCA): Schubert's Duo Sonatas and Franck's A Major Sonata (Balkanton, Eurodisc);
an album of music for Violin and Guitar; ten volumes of her complete Fritz Kreisler
Edition; many Chinese violin concertos, among them the Concerto by Du Ming-xin,
dedicated to her, and a growing number of rare, previously unrecorded violin
concertos such as Joachim's Violin Concerto No. 3, Respighi's Concerto Gregoriano
and Poema Autunnale, Cesar Cui's Suite Concertante, and Anton Rubinstein's
Violin Concerto Op. 46.
Capella Istropolitana (Slovak Philharmonic Chamber
The Capella Istropolitana is a chamber orchestra formed by
leading members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Bratislava. Founded in
1983, the chamber orchestra allows the players, many of them experienced
soloists, to playas chamber musicians. Much of the work of the orchestra has
been concentrated on the recording studio.
The American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser was educated in New
York, continuing his studies at Oberlin, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the
New England Conservatory and at Cologne State Conservatory. His period in Cologne
was the result of a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by an award from the West
German Government and a first prize in the conducting competition held in Santiago,
Gunzenhauser has during the last two decades, enjoyed a varied
and distinguished career, winning popularity in particular for his work with
the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. His other engagements have included
appearances with orchestras in Europe and America, from the RIAS Orchestra of
Berlin and Dublin Radio Orchestra to Victoria, B.C., Spokane and Knoxville.
Stephen Gunzenhauser is also Executive Director of the Wilmington
Music School and Music Director of the Wilmington Chamber Orchestra.
For the Marco Polo Label he has recorded works by Liadov, Gliere
and Rubinstein and for NAXOS, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.
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VIVALDI: 4 Seasons (The) / Concerto alla Rustica