Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was one of the most frequently played records in my home when I was growing up. It is so deeply imprinted in my memory that although I had not actually heard it for many years I found I knew every note, and also that in choosing a recording for you this music triggered so many childhood memories.Last week the parents of one of my younger student’s told me “… we listened to Daphnis and Chloe (last week’s choice) while the girls were having lunch”. I hope some of you might have played it whilst doing your homework, or danced or painted to it, as well as actively “listening” and watching the orchestra, as one would in a concert. I believe that that letting truly great music infuse into us unconsciously through many hearings enriches us in a way that cannot be quantified.

The Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s best known work, written in 1717 is actually a set of four concerti for violin and orchestra. On this live recording with Janine Jansen and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta you can find each concerto at the following timings:
Spring 0.00
Summer 10.20
Autumn 21.00
Winter 32.00
The Four Seasons represented¬† a revolutionary idea in composition and one which later became known as “programme” music. Narrative, in this case sonnets (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) is vividly represented in the music, often imitating the sounds of nature. Each sonnet is divided into three stanzas, just as each concerto falls into three movements; fast – slow – fast..

Here is an English translation for the sonnet for “Spring”.

I. Allegro (fast)
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.II. Largo (slow)
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches
rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps,
his faithful dog beside him.III. Allegro (fast)
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes,
nymphs and shepherds lightly dance
beneath the brilliant canopy of spring

The musical representation is so graphic that Vivaldi actually writes the words of the sonnet on the score. For example in the largo movement the vocal solo violin represents the sleeping goatherd, the orchestral violins’ dotted figure are the leafy branches rustling and the viola plays the part of the faithful dog barking! Notice how the solo violin, following the baroque tradition of the time decorates the melody with extensive ornamentation when it appears for the second time.
SIGNPOSTS for ExplorationSome of you might like to follow the score. This edition actually has the words on it. You may need the translation above if your Italian is not up to scratch. See if you can follow the score and and see how Vivaldi represenst the words graphically in the instrumental parts.

Birdsong is very much a feature of this piece (and last weeks piece Daphnis and Chloe). Some of you might like to learn the calls of some of our native birds. Why not see how many you can recognie on walks and perhaps try to copy them with your voice or on your instruments (having some bird-seed for breakfast will help!) Here is a link to a website where you can hear some of the songs of common British birds.

Many of the best-known melodies tunes from these pieces have been transcribed for all instruments so you could find some of them and learn to play the main theme. By playing it you become part of the music and it becomes part of you. For example The slow movement of Winter and first movement of Spring are very suitable for all instruments.
For example, here is the Largo from Winter written in a key that would be suitable for most instruments: week I will be looking at “Summer” and we will be exploring Vivaldi’s home-town of Venice, which many of you visited on the Dark Peak 2018 Concert Tour.