VIVALDI: The Four Seasons / Wind Concertos
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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
The Four Seasons Op. 8 Nos. 1-4
Concerto in C Major for Flautino, Strings & Basso Continuo, RV 443
Flute Concerto in D Major "Il Gardellino", Op. 10 No.3, RV 428
Concerto in C Major, RV 450
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in 1678, the grandson of a baker and sonof a man who combined the trades of musician and barber. He was to spend thegreater part of his life in his native city, where, from the colour of his hairrather than any political inclination, he was known as "il prete rosso",the red priest. He had been ordained in 1703, when he was appointedviolin-master at the Ospedale della Piet?á, one of the four establishments inVenice for the education of girls who were orphans, illegitimate or indigent.
The institutions were famous for their music in a city that had always attractedmany visitors, in addition to its own enthusiastic musical public.
Vivaldi continued to work at the Piet?á with relatively little interruption.
He was able to combine his duties with those of impresario and composer at thetheatre of S. Angelo from 1714, and left the Piet?á in 1718 to serve briefly asMaestro da camera to Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt. By 1723 he was back againat the Piet?á with a commission to compose and direct the performance of twoconcertos a month. Meanwhile his reputation had spread widely abroad both as avirtuoso performer on the violin and as a composer. In 1730 he visited Bohemiaand in 1738 led an orchestra in Amsterdam for the centenary of the SchouwbergTheatre. In Italy his operas had been performed in Verona and in Ferrara, aswell as in Venice, where they had continued success.
In 1740 the records of the Pieta show Vivaldi's impending departure, and thesale 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 AntonioVinciguerra on 28th June, 1741. A month later he was dead, to be given, likeMozart fifty years later, a poor man's funeral. At the height of his fame he hadearned large sums of money, and one must suspect that his later poverty was duenot to simple extravagance but to the changes of fashion and to his involvementin the expensive and risky business of opera.
Vivaldi was prolific, composing vast quantities of instrumental and vocalmusic and nearly fifty operas. Of the 500 concertos he wrote the most popular inhis life-time as today were the four known as Le Quattro Stagioni - The FourSeasons, works that had circulated widely in manuscript before beingpublished in Amsterdam in 1725, when explanatory poems were added to clarify theprogramme of each concerto. The set was dedicated to Count Wenzel von Morzin, acousin of Haydn's first patron. The title page describes Vivaldi himself as theCount's "maestro in Italia', as "Maestro de' Concerti" of thePieta, 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 birdsthat welcomes the season, followed by the gentle murmur of streams fanned by thebreeze: there is thunder and lightning, and then the birds resume their song,represented by the solo violin assisted by two other solo violins. The secondmovement 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 pastoraldance brings more activity, to the sound of the bag-pipe, interrupted by asection for the solo violin that seems to breathe the sultry heat of comingsummer.
Summer itself is a time of languor - "langue l'uomo, langue 'igreggeed arde iI, Pino", as the introductory sonnet puts it. The musicgrows more energetic as the cuckoo sings, then the turtle-dove and thegoldfinch. The wind rises and the shepherds are anxious, with some musicaljustification. In the slow movement their rest is disturbed by thunder andlightning and there are troublesome flies, and in the final movement the fearsof thunder are realised as a storm batters the crops.
Autumn opens with the dance and song of the country-people, in work thathas much of the artifice of the traditional pastoral convention. This is acelebration of the harvest, with an excess of wine bringing sleep at the end, topervade the second movement. The third movement brings the hunt at dawn, withthe huntsman's horn, the sound of dogs and guns. An animal takes flight and ispursued and dies in the fatigue of the chase.
The last of the seasons, Winter, brings cold winds, the stamping offeet and chattering teeth. The slow movement shelters by the warmth of thefireside, while the rain falls outside, and the last movement of this eventfulhistory shows people walking carefully on ice, slipping and falling and runningin 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 transverseflute, RV 433, Il gardellino (The Goldfinch) RV 428, was publishedby Le C?¿ne in Amsterdam in 1729, forming part of the set of sixconcertos that make up Opus 10. It is hardly necessary to draw attentionto the descriptive elements in the music, although these are by no means asdetailed or programmatic as the famous Four Seasons. Nevertheless thegoldfinch exerts its lungs to as good effect as the birds of spring in the FourSeasons.
Vivaldi wrote some twenty concertos for oboe and strings, in addition to afurther three for two oboes and a score or so more concertos making use of theoboe with other solo instruments. His first published concertos for theinstrument appear in the two books published in Amsterdam in 1716 and 1717, eachset including one concerto for solo oboe and five for solo violin. These followthe publication by Albinoni of his oboe concertos, issued in 1715. The firstrecorded oboe teacher at the Pieta is Ludovico Erdmann, employed in 1707 andshortly afterwards in the service of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Another oboistof German origin, Ignazio Siber, was appointed in 1713 and was replaced in 1716by Onofrio Penati, an Italian musician in the musical establishment of St.
Mark's. Siber was reappointed in 1728 as flute master. These appointmentssuggest some attention on the part of the governors of the Piet?á to theteaching of the oboe.
The Concerto in C major, RV 450, one of seven in this key, has anenergetic opening, with descending cello scales complementing the initial violinfigure and later use of cross- rhythms. The following A minor Larghetto isstarted by the oboe with continuo, before the intervention of the strings.
Contrasted rhythms are a feature of the concluding Allegro.