ANTONIO VIVALDI

Born in Venice on March 4th, 1678, Vivaldi was employed for most of his working life by the Ospedale della Pietà. Often termed an "orphanage", this Ospedale was in fact a home for the female offspring of noblemen and their numerous dalliances with their mistresses. The Ospedale was thus well endowed by the "anonymous" fathers; its furnishings bordered on the opulent, the young ladies were well looked-after, and the musical standards among the highest in Venice. Most of Vivaldi's concerti were intended for performance with his many talented pupils. He was also deeply involved with opera, both in composition and staging, mainly at Venice's Teatro Sant' Angelo.

At the end of 1717 Vivaldi moved to Mantua for two years in order to take up his post as Chamber Capellmeister at the court of Landgrave Philips van Hessen-Darmstadt. His task there was to provide operas, cantatas, and perhaps concert music, too. Here he made the acquaintance of the singer Anna Giraud (or Giro), who moved in to live with him, and they stayed together until Vivaldi's death.

Vivaldi also wrote works on commission from foreign rulers, such as the French king, Louis XV - the serenade La Sena festeggiante (Festival on the Seine), for example. This work cannot be dated precisely, but it was certainly written after 1720. In Rome Vivaldi found a patron in the person of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, a great music lover, who earlier had been the patron of Arcangelo Corelli. And if we can believe Vivaldi himself, the Pope asked him to come and play the violin for him at a private audience.

Despite his stay in Rome and other cities, Vivaldi remained in the service of the Ospedale della Pietà, which nominated him "Maestro di concerti." He was required only to send two concertos per month to Venice (transport costs were to the account of the client) for which he received a ducat per concerto. His presence was never required. He also remained director of the Teatro Sant' Angelo.

In 1725 the publication Il Cimento dell' Armenia e dell'invenzione (The trial of harmony and invention), opus 8, appeared in Amsterdam. This consisted of twelve concertos, seven of which were descriptive: The Four Seasons, Storm at Sea, Pleasure and The Hunt. Vivaldi transformed the tradition of descriptive music into a typically Italian musical style with its unmistakable timbre in which the strings play a major role.

These concertos were enormously successful, particularly in France. In the second half of the 18th century there even appeared some remarkable adaptations of the Spring concerto: Michel Corrette (1709-1795) based his motet Laudate Dominum de coelis of 1765 on this concerto and, in 1775, Jean-Jacques Rousseau reworked it into a version for solo flute. "Spring" was also a firm favorite of King Louis XV, who would order it to be performed at the most unexpected moments, and Vivaldi received various commissions for further compositions from the court at Versailles.

In 1738 Vivaldi was in Amsterdam where he conducted a festive opening concert for the 100th Anniversary of the Schouwburg Theater. Returning to Venice, which was at that time suffering a severe economic downturn, he resigned from the Ospedale in 1740, planning to move to Vienna under the patronage of his admirer Charles VI. His stay in Vienna was to be shortlived however, for he died on July 28th 1741 "of internal fire" (probably the asthmatic bronchitis from which he suffered all his life) and, like Mozart fifty years later, received a modest burial. Anna Giraud returned to Venice, where she died in 1750.

THE FOUR SEASONS:

1: Concerto No.1 in E Major, RV 269, "SPRING"
Allegro / Largo / Allegro (Pastorale dance)

2: Concerto No.2 in g minor, RV 315, "SUMMER"
Allegro non molto - Allegro / Adagio Presto Adagio / Presto (Summer Storm)

3: Concerto No.3 in F Major, RV 293, "AUTUMN"
Allegro (Peasant Dance and Song) / Adagio molto (Sleeping Drunkards) / Allegro (The Hunt)

4: Concerto No.4 in f minor, RV 297, "WINTER"
Allegro non molto / Largo / Allegro

One of the earliest uses of music was in the accompaniment of theatrical dance and story-telling, so it is natural that composers should from time to time produce what we know as "program music" music written to portray events, activities or moods such as pastoral scenes or storms. Music representing the moods of the four seasons has always been popular, and baroque composers such as Werner and Fischer among others produced cycles of concertos representing the fours seasons. But none were to do so in such precise pictorial detail as Antonio Vivaldi in his Four Seasons concertos.

As a descriptive basis for his Four Seasons, Vivaldi took four Sonnets, apparently written by himself. Each of the four sonnets is expressed in a concerto, which in turn is divided into three phrases or ideas, reflected in the three movements (fast-slow-fast) of each concerto. The published scores (by Estienne Roger of Amsterdam in 1716-7) are marked to indicate which musical passages are representative of which verses of the sonnet. It is advisable, at least during the first few hearings, to follow the sonnets and music together, for they are bound up with one another to an extent rarely heard in any other programmatic pieces either of the baroque period or subsequently.

Spring Concerto in E Major

Allegro
"Giunt' la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de' Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon' coprendo l' aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl' Augelletti;
Tornan' di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:"

Largo
"E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme 'l Caprar col fido can' lato."

Allegro
"Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all' apparir brillante."

Spring Concerto in E Major

Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

 

Summer Concerto in g-minor

Allegro non molto
"Sotto dura Staggion dal Sole accesa
Langue l' huom, langue 'l gregge, ed arde il Pino;
Scioglie il Cucco la Voce, e tosto intesa
Canta la Tortorella e 'l gardelino.
Zeffiro dolce Spira, m contesa
Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino;
E piange il Pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e 'l suo destino;"

Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
"Toglie alle membra lasse il Suo riposo
Il timore de' Lampi, e tuoni fieri
E de mosche, e mossoni il Stuol furioso!"

Presto
"Ah che pur troppo i Suo timor Son veri
Tuona e fulmina il Ciel e grandioso
Tronca il capo alle Spiche e a' grani alteri."

Summer Concerto in g-minor

Allegro non molto
Beneath the blazing sun's relentless heat
men and flocks are sweltering,
pines are scorched.
We hear the cuckoo's voice; then sweet songs of the turtle dove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air.but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside. The shepherd trembles, fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.

Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
His limbs are now awakened from their repose by fear of lightning's flash and thunder's roar, as gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Presto
Alas, his worst fears were justified, as the heavens roar and great hailstones beat down upon the proudly standing corn.

 

Autumn Concerto in F Major

Allegro
"Celebra il Vilanel con balli e Canti
Del felice raccolto il bel piacere
E del liquor de Bacco accesi tanti
Finiscono col Sonno il lor godere"

Adagio molto
"F ch' ogn' uno tralasci e balli e canti
L' aria che temperata d piacere,
E la Staggion ch' invita tanti e tanti
D' un dolcissimo Sonno al bel godere."

Allegro
"I cacciator alla nov' alba caccia
Con corni, Schioppi, e canni escono fuore
Fugge la belua, e Seguono la traccia;
Gi Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De' Schioppi e canni, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, m oppressa muore."

Autumn Concerto in F Major

Allegro
The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in.
The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.

Adagio molto
The singing and the dancing die away
as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air,
inviting all to sleep
without a care.

Allegro
The hunters emerge at dawn,
ready for the chase,
with horns and dogs and cries.
Their quarry flees while they give chase.
Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on,
but, harried, dies.

 

Winter Concerto in f-minor

Allegro non molto
"Aggiacciato tremar tr neri algenti
Al Severo Spirar d' orrido Vento,
Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
E pel Soverchio gel batter i denti;"

Largo
"Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento"

Allegro
"Caminar Sopra 'l giaccio, e passo lento
Per timor di cader gersene intenti;
Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader terra
Di nuove ir Sopra 'l giaccio e correr forte
Sin ch' il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;
Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
Sirocco Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra
Quest' 'l verno, m tal, che gioja apporte."

Winter Concerto in f-minor

Allegro non molto
Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one's icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.

Largo
To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

Allegro
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.

BMC 19
ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741):
The FOUR SEASONS
The Modena Chamber Orchestra,
Leader, and solo violin, Francesco Calvi
Caterina Montanari, harpsichord continuo

GLORIA in D, RV 589
Mimi Coertse & Ina Dressel, sopranos / Sonja Draxler, alto
Vienna Academy Chorus & State Opera Orchestra
Conductor Hermann Scherchen
This lyrical performance by the Modena Chamber Orchestra under Maestro Calvi reflects every detail of the original sonnets.... the birds of spring, a summer storm, the peasants' revelries when the autumn harvest is completed, the chattering teeth as the winter wind blows. English text of the sonnets is enclosed with the CD.

'Four Seasons' recordings are usually accompanied on a CD by some similar string concertos. The Baroque Music Club CD however has taken the opportunity to offer something different and a complete contrast in sound, with Vivaldi's magnificent Gloria in a wonderful performance full of sensitivity and detailing.

Here on one CD is something familiar, something perhaps a little less known. The Gloria will certainly prove a revelation to those unfamiliar with it.

Total Time: 74:51.

Click the image for full information and music samples.

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