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ClassicsOnline Home » VIVALDI: 4 Seasons (The) / Wind Concertos
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
The Four Seasons Op. 8 Nos. 1-4
Concerto in C Major for Flautino, Strings & Basso Continuo, RV 443
Flute Concerto in D Major "Il Gardellino", Op. 10 No.3, RV 428
Concerto in C Major, RV 450
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 Pietà, 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 Pietà 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 Pietà in 1718 to serve briefly as
Maestro da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. By 1723 he was back again
at the Pietà 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 twenty concertos. We next hear of him in Vienna,
where there is a record of the sale of more compositions to Count Antonio
Vinciguerra on 28th June, 1741. A month later he was dead, to be given, like
Mozart fifty 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 fifty 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 itself is a time of languor - "langue l'uomo, langue 'i
greggeed arde iI, 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 be had.
Vivaldi wrote some fifteen concertos for flauto traverso, the transverse
flute, RV 433, Il gardellino (The Goldfinch) RV 428, was published
by Le Cène in Amsterdam in 1729, forming part of the set of six
concertos that make up Opus 10. It is hardly necessary to draw attention
to the descriptive elements in the music, although these are by no means as
detailed or programmatic as the famous Four Seasons. Nevertheless the
goldfinch exerts its lungs to as good effect as the birds of spring in the Four
Vivaldi wrote some twenty concertos for oboe and strings, in addition to a
further three for two oboes and a score or so more concertos making use of the
oboe with other solo instruments. His first published concertos for the
instrument appear in the two books published in Amsterdam in 1716 and 1717, each
set including one concerto for solo oboe and five for solo violin. These follow
the publication by Albinoni of his oboe concertos, issued in 1715. The first
recorded oboe teacher at the Pieta is Ludovico Erdmann, employed in 1707 and
shortly afterwards in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Another oboist
of German origin, Ignazio Siber, was appointed in 1713 and was replaced in 1716
by Onofrio Penati, an Italian musician in the musical establishment of St.
Mark's. Siber was reappointed in 1728 as flute master. These appointments
suggest some attention on the part of the governors of the Pietà to the
teaching of the oboe.
The Concerto in C major, RV 450, one of seven in this key, has an
energetic opening, with descending cello scales complementing the initial violin
figure and later use of cross- rhythms. The following A minor Larghetto is
started by the oboe with continuo, before the intervention of the strings.
Contrasted rhythms are a feature of the concluding Allegro.
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VIVALDI: 4 Seasons (The) / Wind Concertos