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The Genius of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Antonio Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi

Yes, the collection of Baroque hits played at spring and summer wine parties, festivals, classical music collections or background music in fancy restaurants, etc. But have you ever truly listened to this violin concerti? Truly listened? The equal of Bach's genius with features that truly set it apart from any piece of Baroque music. You just have to know where to look...and listen.

Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a group of four violin concerti each of which gives musical expression to a season of the year. Vivaldi composes this concerti between 1718−1720. They were published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight additional concerti, as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention).

This music was a revolution in musical conception: Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, storms, drunken dancers, hunting parties from both the hunters' and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires.

Unusually for the period, Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying sonnets (possibly written by the composer himself) that elucidated what it was in the spirit of each season that his music was intended to evoke. The concerti therefore stand as one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what would come to be called program music—in other words, music with a narrative element. Vivaldi took great pains to relate his music to the texts of the poems, translating the poetic lines themselves directly into the music on the page. For example, in the middle section of "Spring", when the goatherd sleeps, his barking dog can be heard in the viola section. The music is elsewhere similarly evocative of other natural sounds. Vivaldi divided each concerto into three movements (fast–slow–fast), and, likewise, each linked sonnet into three sections.

But for me, what truly sets this genius music apart from his contemporaries is Vivaldi's use of dynamics, the bowing and articulations of the instruments, the interplay and counter point between the soloist violin and the first cello. The use of the contra bass to fill out the string ensemble and the harpsichord to bring a percussive accompaniment to the music all come together in a virtuosic journey.

The articulation, bowing and performance of the entire string section is a master class in how to get the most out of the instruments - the use of dynamics, Con lengo, Sub tasto, pizzicato, mutes, bowing, harmonics is astounding. The use of the Celli and Contra Bass in both legato and aggressive counter point bowing is amazing. The unsung hero's...the viola's are the honey that sweeten the soloist and violins. They all synergistically blend together to create story telling and musical magic. Every musician and musical part is virtuosic. There is aggression, tenderness, frantic, pastural, and peaceful elements all coming together to tell a unique and deeply visual story.

Vivaldi's Four Seasons is truly a magical journey of melodic interplay, virtuosic performance, creative voicing and a truly unique way in which to make the instruments sing and perform in new and innovative ways. Especially for the Baroque period. A master class in orchestration, voicing, counter point, dynamics, performance technique and melodic story telling. I encourage you to revisit this concerti of music with a fresh look and ears. You will be blown away. In fact, better yet. Watch a performance. You will not regret it.

Here is a live performance by one of my favorite violin soloists Janine Jansen. She is an amazing performer and soloist, and she masterfully demonstrates the genius behind this piece of music. It is well worth watching. Pay close attention to the technique and sounds produced by those techniques. Fascinating! Inspiring!

Lastly, but studying this type of music or any style of music...particularly classical, film scoring, etc., it can help you visualize and hear how to use instruments in new and unique ways and voicing when composing your own music. It helps you develop a unique sound in your sonic pallet. Think Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Williams, etc. They have found ways in which to use the orchestra to create unique sounds to help tell the story.

Clearly Vivaldi was a genius and one of the most innovative composers and violin virtuoso's in the history of music. But to be this creative in the Baroque period was truly special. We can all learn from the masters.


PS: The history of this piece of music above was taken from Wikipedia. You can learn more about Vivaldi's Four Season's here


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