The Four Seasons
Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: Approx. 45 Minutes
Genre: Solo Concertos
Time of Creation: 1725
World Premiere: Unknown (First Publication 1725)
Table of Contents
Vivaldi's Four Seasons in 5 Sentences
Antonio Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons is a collection of four violin concertos and an early example of program music: as the title suggests, it mainly imitates natural phenomena such as wind and storm sounds, thunderstorms, bird calls, and even dog barking. All four violin concertos consist of three movements and follow roughly the same formal scheme: the first movement is in ritornello form (solo and tutti passages alternate), the second movement is an aria (chant-like but purely instrumental, just like Bach’s famous piece), and the third movement is dance-like. Strikingly, the first and third movements are never in the same time signature.
4 Highlights from Vivaldi's Four Seasons
Highlight 1: Spring, first movement
The sweeping theme from the first movement of Vivaldi’s Spring is one of the most famous themes in all of classical music:
Highlight 2: Summer, third movement
In the third movement of Summer, we hear a thunderstorm. Purely motor phenomena (scales, arpeggios, repeated notes) dominate the musical events:
Highlight 3: Autumn, third movement
What would autumn be without a decent hunt? In the third movement we hear the hunting horns and even rifle shots:
Highlight 4: Winter, second movement
Wonderful how Vivaldi creates a warm scene by the fireplace in the second movement of Winter. You can even hear the rain pounding against the window. Cozy.
3 Questions and Answers about Vivaldi's Four Seasons
Question 1: Do Vivaldi's Four Seasons have a program?
Yes. Each season has a sonnet, possibly by Vivaldi himself. The individual verbal descriptions of scenes are assigned to the music.
Question 2: Was Vivaldi influential?
Vivaldi’s role in music history is often underestimated. For me, he is something of a “hidden champion” who indirectly influenced many other great composers. Johann Sebastian Bach, for example, studied Vivaldi’s style intensively, copying his works for days and nights.
Question 3: Are there other concerts by Vivaldi that follow a program?
Yes. For example, there are concertos titled “The Storm on the Sea,” “The Hunt,” and “The Pleasure.”
2 Recommended Recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons
Recording 1: Voices of Music (live/revised, 2015–2018)
It is somehow the “fate” of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that they are hardly ever listened to consciously anymore: Far too much they have been “abused” as background or elevator music. It is worthwhile to listen to an interpretation of an ensemble playing on historical instruments. The sound, which is actually very old, seems fresher and more unused to our modern ears and brings out Vivaldi’s filigree work of art much better.
I think the production of the early music ensemble Voices of Music is great. This recording is a composite of four live concerts played between 2015 and 2018. Applause and noises from the audience have been removed in retrospect:
Recording 2: Amsterdam Sinfonietta (live, 2014)
If you prefer the sound of modern instruments, then the interpretation of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta (lead by the well-known violinist Janine Jansen) is recommended: