There is a certain danger in dividing the history of music into periods. Dates have something arbitrary about them, particularly when it comes to cultural history. It is, however, convenient to distinguish a Baroque period in music, from about 1600 to about 1750. Nowadays music from this period enjoys enormous popularity and among the most popular works of all is Antonio Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Vivaldi, known as the Red Priest from the colour of his hair and his vocation, was born in 1678 in Venice, where he spent the greater part of his life. He was employed as a violin-teacher and then as director of instrumental music at a girls' orphanage, the Ospedale della Pietà, well known for the high standard of its musical performances. Among his 500 or so concertos, a phenomenal output even by the standards of his own time, The Four Seasons have always proved the most popular, a set of four concertos for solo violin, strings and harpsichord. Vivaldi added to the published score a series of poems that offer a narrative outline for the characteristic events of each season. In Spring the birds sing, until their song is interrupted by a thunder-storm, a goat-herd sleeps, while his flock grazes and his faithful dog does his work for him, barking at regular intervals. Spring ends with a shepherd dance. Sultry Summer, Autumn with its cheerful hunting-parties and icy Winter follow a similar pattern, the last contrasting the cold outside with the warmth to be found inside, by the fireside. If The Four Seasons already sounds familiar, it might be because advertisers have found there an inexhaustible mine of music to accompany the advertisement of luxury products. The music has, in fact, an elegance and clarity about it, breathing the spirit of the early 18th century in that most elegant and beautiful of cities, Venice. The Four Seasons and the pastoral Concerto alla Rustica, also included on the recommended disc, offer attractive music at any level, easy listening, or an object of deeper exploration.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons & Concerto alla Rustica, played by the violinist Takako Nishizaki with the Capella Istropolitana under the conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser.