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8.553219 - VIVALDI: 4 Seasons (The) / Wind Concertos
Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
The Four Seasons Op. 8 Nos. 1-4
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.
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 Seasons.
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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