Antonio Vivaldi, ‘The Four Seasons’ – ‘Winter’, I Musici

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, “Winter”, “The Four Seasons” / “Le Quattro Stagioni” – “L’Inverno” – Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297. Winter Solstice
00:00 I. Allegro non molto
03:30 II. Largo
05:41 III. Allegro
09:04 IV. Credits

Performers: I Musici Group
Violin Solo – Federico Agostini, 1988
Anton van Munster Film (1934-2009)

Antonio Vivaldi must be regarded as the indisputable king of the Baroque instrumental concerto. Four concertos, known collectively as The Four Seasons, were first published in 1725 as part of a set of twelve concerti, Op. 8, entitled Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention) and remains the composer’s best-known and most characteristic work.

Aside from the features that have come to be associated with most of Vivaldi’s music – grace, virtuosity, energetic motoric rhythms – the concertos of The Four Seasons are remarkable for their extraordinary programmatic imagination, which is counterbalanced by close attention to formal structure. Each concerto is accompanied by a descriptive poem whose imagery becomes an essential element of the musical fabric. The birds that greet the season “with their joyful song” in La primavera (Spring), for example, are colorfully depicted in the work’s elaborately ornamented figuration. L’estate (Summer) is painted in similarly vivid colors that portray both the piping of a shepherd and a gathering storm. L’autunno (Autumn) is marked by a folksy harvest celebration and the galloping of a hunting party on horseback. The bleakness and dissonance of L’inverno (Winter) create a severe but expressive portrait that provides a striking summation of Vivaldi’s pictorial ingenuity in these four works.

This is the closing chapter in Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, a cycle of four violin concertos each inspired by an Italian sonnet whose mostly pastoral scenes the composer attempts to describe in the music. This Concerto in F minor is subtitled “Winter” and, not surprisingly, contains the least ebullient music – music that at times even takes on a dark expressive manner. That said, it still has its share of bright sounds and happy moods – the second movement brims with the kind of sweet lyricism to make the listener long for snow-covered scenery and a warm fireplace.

Cast in three movements, this Concerto, at about nine minutes in duration, is the shortest of the four. The first movement, marked Allegro non molto, opens with a troubled rhythmic idea, as staccato chords grow more anxious and louder as they progress, the composer depicting the coldness and unpleasantness of winter, as described in the sonnet. The writing for solo violin is brilliant and is said to convey the chill of the winter winds. Most of the opening panel expresses the darker, nastier side of winter.

The second movement, Largo, however, shows its more intimate and sweeter side, as the lovely singing music depicts people warming themselves by a fire while a cold rain falls outside – in Vivaldi’s Italy, winter rarely produced snow.

The Allegro finale begins slowly, as the violin soloist plays tentatively, as if to convey one’s bracing for the cold. Gradually the music comes to life, but with frosty swirls and the wind howling and chilling. The pacing slows in the latter half as another dark mood threatens to overtake the proceedings, but the music suddenly springs to life with great vigor and the work ends in a positive, if somewhat tense mood.

This is the Vídeo of the most popular classical works of all. I Musici were the driving force in the rediscovery of Baroque repertoire and their CD recording of The Four Seasons is one of the best-selling Philips discs of all time. I Musici are still considered to be one of the greatest ‘modern’ string ensembles. These performances by I Musici were filmed in key locations around Vivaldi’s city of Venice. This aforementioned mega-hit video contain flashes of Venetian points of interest and art works. The film incorporates panoramic shots of the city as well as some of the great masterpieces of art to be found there by artists such as Canaletto, Guardi and Tintoretto. There are also shots of the fabulous costumes sported by Venice’s citizens during its unique winter Carnival. All the four video thumbnails movements are from the Venice Carnival in the 4th last movement.


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