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

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, “Spring”, “The Four Seasons” / “Le Quattro Stagioni” – “La Primavera”, Concerto Nº 1 in E minor, Op. 8, RV 229
00:22 I. Allegro
03:43 II. Largo e Pianissimo sempre
06:39 III. Danza pastorale

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 Concerto is the first of four in what is probably Vivaldi’s most popular effort, The Four Seasons. Cast in three movements, the Concerto in E major is subtitled “Spring” and, like its three siblings, was inspired by an Italian sonnet, whose colorful pastoral scenes and events the composer depicts in his wonderfully imaginative music.

The opening movement’s main theme is so familiar as to have reached well beyond the boundaries of classical music to attain popularity with the man and woman on the street. Marked Allegro, the music bounces along joyfully in the strings, the solo violin soon joining in to depict the chirping of birds and other pastoral sounds. The music brims with spirited joy here, but is suddenly interrupted by a violent trill – a storm. It is short lived, however, and the mood returns to the gaiety of the opening music.

The second movement, marked Largo e pianissimo sempre, is tranquil and dreamy, the soothing, though wistful music depicting a goatherder sleeping peacefully, his dog attending him amid the gentle rustling of nearby plants and leaves. Vivaldi’s strings quiver and murmur here, imparting a rich nocturnal atmosphere, while mesmerizing the ear with lovely lyrical sounds.

The finale, marked Danza pastorale: Allegro, begins in a lively, bright manner, Vivaldi imaginatively bringing to life the festive scene of shepherds and nymphs dancing at the onset of spring. While the music here recalls the mood in the opening movement, it is a bit less vigorous, at times turning somewhat reflective, especially in the interior portions and the ending. Still, the overall character exudes a sense of both spirited cheer and pastoral calm.

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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