The Four Seasons by Vivaldi: Analysis & Structure

The Four Seasons by Vivaldi: Analysis & Structure
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  • 0:02 Vivaldi and ''The Four…
  • 1:12 Spring: Concerto No. 1…
  • 2:16 Summer: Concerto No. 2…
  • 3:18 Autumn: Concerto No. 3…
  • 4:15 Winter: Concerto No. 4…
  • 5:26 Meaning and Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Many composers have a seminal work for which they're known. In this lesson, we'll explore Vivaldi's masterpiece, 'The Four Seasons', and examine its structure and content.

Antonio Vivaldi and The Four Seasons

Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Everybody has a favorite season, that time of year when everything just feels better. You may even wish you could write a song about it. Well, no need. Antonio Vivaldi has done it for you. Vivaldi was an 18th-century composer associated with the ornate Baroque period of music. His best known work is a set of violin concertos entitled Le quattro stagioni, or The Four Seasons. Written around 1720, this piece is composed of four concertos of three movements each. Each concerto represents one season of the year. To maintain a compelling composition, each section's three movements are organized into a tempo pattern of fast-slow-fast. To help us understand his work, Antonio Vivaldi included a series of poems describing each season's events. These sonnets may have been written by the composer or by a colleague. The close association of narrative and music was pretty ground-breaking at the time.

Spring: Concerto No. 1 in E Major

The first season of Vivaldi's work is spring. The movement's associated sonnets can be translated as:

''Joyful spring has arrived
the birds greet it with their cheerful song,
and the brooks in the gentle breeze,
flow with a sweet murmur.
''

This is what you should listen for in the music. Violins mimic the sounds of chirping birds and babbling brooks, but then change tone as a thunderstorm arrives. The orchestra imitates thunderclaps; after they recede, the little birds return.

Movement two is slow and dignified, musically describing a goatherder sleeping in flowering meadow with his dog at his side. The scene is tranquil and idyllic, capturing the peaceful idleness of spring.

The third movement portrays a rustic peasant dance. The poem describes nymphs and shepherds dancing to festive sounds. The orchestra presents an upbeat melody as well as the sounds of a joyous gathering of people.

Summer: Concerto No. 2 in G Minor

Vivaldi's depiction of summer correlates to a poem about the season's blazing heat. The intense, lazy heat begins to be replaced by a cool and refreshing breeze, accompanied by various singing birds. However, minor chords and dramatic undertones warn us that this breeze could turn into a storm. The shepherd begins to worry.

In ''Summer,'' the second movement starts slow but speeds up as the shepherd becomes more aware of the approaching storm. The orchestra not only mimics thunder, but also furiously buzzing insects. It's a very different tone than what we've experienced so far.

The final movement is hurried, anxious, and dramatic as the shepherd realizes that the storm is as bad as he feared. The mighty thunderstorm brings great hailstones raining down on nearby crops. The orchestra captures the storm's thunder, wind, and hail, and the worry of the shepherd witnessing this tempest.

Autumn: Concerto No. 3 in F Major

From the heat and the storms of summer, we move into the cool blessings of autumn. Overall, this section is upbeat and joyful as peasants celebrate the bountiful harvest. The fact that the crops survived the summer storms is a relief. The peasants drink deeply until falling asleep.

Movement two depicts the peaceful sleep following the harvest festival. The poem describes cool breezes replacing the songs and dances. In the orchestra, festive music fades away in favor of peaceful melodies. The only item on the agenda is a nice, pleasant nap.

The last movement is again upbeat, this time with a more dramatic feel. The scene is a hunt, as harvest celebrations continue. The music depicts the hunters' joy and triumph as well as the panic and death of the prey. This foreshadows things to come as lively fall begins to fade to winter.

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