Vivaldi's Four Seasons
Lucio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is widely regarded not only as a musical masterwork
of a renowned baroque composer, but also as one of the great masterworks in all
of Western art. The Four Seasons is a series of four concertos (Spring, Summer,
Autumn and Winter, each containing three movements) which are the first part of
the larger 12 concerto work entitled "Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione"
(The Contest of Harmony and Invention) - Vivaldi’s 8th Opus. The works were
first published in Amsterdam in 1725, but were written a few years earlier, most
likely when Vivaldi spent several years as Maestro for Prince Phillip, governor
In addition to being hailed as a musical genius and a virtuoso violinist of the
highest caliber, Il Prete Rosso, or “The Red Priest” (as he was known because of
his red hair and the fact that he was an ordained priest) is credited with
numerous breakthroughs in baroque music. For example, today, it would be hard
for anyone to imagine the violin not being used for solo work. However, before
Vivaldi came along with his boundless creativity and mastery of his instrument,
the violin was seen as strictly an ensemble instrument. He single handedly
brought the violin from the background to the front and center.
Another of Vivaldi’s many contributions to Western music is the concept of
pictorialism, which he presciently demonstrates for us in Four Seasons. For each
of the three movements of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, Vivaldi attaches
short sonnets for added vividry.
After springtime is so gloriously heralded-in in the very first movement, we
hear the shepherd’s dog bark throughout the next movement (“Spring 2”). Rustic
bagpipes fill the air at the beginning of Spring 3. In the first movement of
Summer (or “Summer 1”), the call of the Cuckoo (listen
to an actual cuckoo call) is simulated. In Summer 2, insects furiously swarm
the troubled little shepherd before he witnesses the sad scene of the crops
being destroyed by a summer storm. The hunters’ bugles ring out as they pursue
and overcome their prey in Autumn 3. Interestingly, being that music notation
doesn’t allow for certain techniques used by Vivaldi to imitate man and nature;
the original sheet music has several instances of hand-written notes from him in
order to coach the reader.
Besides offering a most exquisite example of pictorialism, Seasons also
highlights many of the gifts which made the Red Priest one of the greats. The
phenomenal mastery over his instrument becomes clear when listening to the
hair-raising runs heard in pieces such the first movement of Spring and the
first and third movements of Winter. His ability to lift the heart of the
listener through his sheer love of music is apparent throughout Seasons, but is
particularly pronounced in the first and third movements of Spring and Autumn
The sonnets below are more exegeses than translations, as literal translations
of the originals to English would produce something resembling gibberish. The
exegeses used here are original to this article, as many of those currently
available were found to be lacking in many respects. In some cases they were too
precise in translation, to the point of detraction while, in other cases, not
precise enough for authenticity.
The audio files accompanying the sonnets are from an “out of print” album
produced in 1976 by a 12 piece French ensemble led by Nikolaus Haroncourt. The
group, obvious Vivaldi fanatics, went to great lengths by acquiring actual
instruments of the time and carefully researching specific performance
techniques used during the period when Vivaldi was alive. Another laudable
aspect of this version is that the harpsichord - an instrument Vivaldi played -
doesn't get buried by the recording process, as is so often (and so
frustratingly) the case with productions of seasons. The converted sound files
used for this article are for example purposes only and do not do the work
appropriate justice. If you can find any available CDs of the Haroncourt version
of Seasons, buy one. The production is exceedingly authentic, with a natural
sound and subtle beauty that must fill the room via an appropriate sound system
to be fully appreciated. It happens to be the favorite interpretation of this
Most of what’s contained in this article was initially intended to be a part of
a larger upcoming AQ piece dedicated to Antonio Vivaldi. However, it was
realized that four pages devoted solely to Seasons would have been
disproportionate and would have made the article too long. On the other hand, at
least four pages were due this magnificent creation if it were to be given
sufficiently thorough treatment. Hence the outtake you're now reading.
Those new to the works of the Venetian master will find Seasons is an excellent
primer. Be advised, however, that Vivaldi is highly addictive. For those
familiar with Vivaldi yet have not become familiar with these sonnets (there
are, surprisingly, many), listening to their associated movements while
contemplating them adds a new and elightening aspect to the music and the
As far as the Vivaldi aficionado is concerned, well, Seasons is always a good
listen. Regardless of how many times it is enjoyed, like a good cigar or glass
of fine wine, it can never disappoint.
Opus VIII: Le quattro
stagioni (The Four Seasons)
(Spring) – Concerto I in E Major - RV 269
1st Movement (“Spring 1”)
Springtime has arrived, and the birds joyfully celebrate her return with happy
song while murmuring brooks are gently caressed by the breezes. Then, the
heavens are shrouded with a black canopy as thunder and bolts of lightning
herald in storms, which then pass into silence and the birds resume their happy
2nd Movement (“Spring 2”)
Now, in the flowery meadow, to the soft rustling of leafy bows, the goat-herder
sleeps, his faithful dog at his side.
3rd Movement (“Spring 3”)
To the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance
beneath the beloved, brilliant canopy, welcoming the arrival of spring.
L'Estate (Summer) – Concerto II in G minor - RV 315
1st Movement (“Summer 1”) Allegro non
Under the harsh season’s blazing sun, men and flocks languish and pines are
scorched. We hear the call of the cuckoo, followed by sweet songs of the turtle
dove and finch. Gentle western breezes blow….until the ominous north winds
suddenly sweep them away. The little shepherd sobs in fear of the violent storm…
and his destiny.
2nd Movement (“Summer 2”)
Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
His tired limbs are roused from rest, frightened by the lightning bolts and
roaring thunder, as flies and gnats swarm furiously.
3rd Movement (“Summer 3”)
Alas, his worst fears are realized, as huge hailstones fall from the roaring
heavens, cutting the heads from the proudly standing grain.
L'Autunno (Autumn) – Concerto III in F Major - RV 293
1st Movement “(Autumn 1”)
Peasants celebrate the delight of a bountiful harvest with song and dance,
ignited by the liquor of Bacchus, after which many end up in deep sleep.
2nd Movement (“Autumn 2”)
The song and dance fades away as the pleasant air invites all to a sweet and
3rd Movement (“Autumn 3”)
As dawn breaks, the hunters set forth with horns, guns and hounds. Their prey
flees as they follow its trail. Terrified and tiring from the great clamor of
the guns and dogs, the wounded prey struggles to escape, but is overwhelmed and
L'Inverno (Winter) – Concerto IV in F minor - RV 297
1st Movement (“Winter 1”)
Allegro non molto
Shivering from the chill amid the frozen snow and harsh winds; running and
constantly stomping one's frozen feet, teeth chatter from the bitter cold.
2nd Movement (“Winter 2”)
To pass the days quiet and content by the fire, while the rain outside soaks
people by the hundreds.
3rd Movement (“Winter 3”)
Slowly and cautiously we walk the icy path, afraid of slipping and falling. We
spin, and fall to the ground then, rising hastily, run across the ice before it
The chilly north winds, all at war, find their way in through the bolted doors…
this is winter, yet it has joys of its own.