The Four Seasons
- Eshaan Shaikh
The Four Seasons (Italian – Le quattro stagioni) is a set of four violin concertos composed by Baroque Era legend Antonio Vivaldi in 1725. It is his best-known work and is also one of the best-known classical pieces of all time. But first, a little bit about the composer.
Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was an Italian composer, violinist, teacher and even a Roman Catholic priest who lived during the Baroque Era. He was one of the most active composers of his time, making around 46 operas and over 500 concertos. He was born on 4th March 1678 to Giovanni Vivaldi and Camilla Calicchio. Music ran in the family; his father was a violinist and he taught his prodigy of a son to play as well, but was sent to join the priesthood at age 15. He studied for 10 years and eventually earned the nickname “il prete rosso”, Italian for “the red priest” due to his distinct red hair. However, his health was quite problematic. He had a form of asthma since childhood, and his health kept worsening over the years as he travelled extensively. In 1703, he became maestro di violin (master of violin) at an orphanage in Venice called the Pio Ospedale della Pietà. Although he was mainly known as a composer, he was an excellent violinist. Vivaldi died aged sixty-three in 1741 due to an “internal infection,” most probably due to his already worsening condition. The Four Seasons is his most widely known piece of music consisting of four concertos, each depicting the four seasons.
Each of the four concertos has its distinct texture and sound, resembling their respective seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter. They were, unusually for the time, released with sonnets for each movement, most probably written by Vivaldi himself. They were meant to portray and visualize the mood and scenes his pieces depicted. The concertos are highly diverse in terms of their dynamics and moods and were also composed in different keys: Concerto No.1 “Spring” in E Major, Concerto No. 2 “Summer” in G Minor, Concerto No. 3 “Autumn” in F Major and Concerto No. 4 “Winter” in F Minor. The Summer and Winter movements are more dramatic and ‘violent’ and can be seen as musical paintings of storms, which is why Summer is also called the Storm movement.
The Spring movement is a more ‘jolly and exciting’ movement due to it being composed in a major key and having varying dynamics, from soft and soothing sections to fast and lively sections. A part of the movement is also labelled the barking dog as instructions, to inform the musicians to play the music like a dog’s barking. Autumn is a slow movement and, in some ways, similar to Spring. The tempo is much slower than the other concertos and its corresponding sonnet illustrates men rejoicing and falling sound asleep after getting drunk. Winter is arguably the ‘darkest’ of the 4 concertos. The start resembles a shivering person, stomping on the ground to maintain their warmth. Moving on to the middle of the movement, the sonnet illustrates the pleasure of being beside a fire and keeping oneself nice and warm, and towards the end it offers people walking down icy and slippery roads overcome with a bitter, freezing cold, having to watch their every step lest they trip and fall.
The Four Seasons has proved to be one of, if not the most, popular pieces of classical music in history. It is used almost everywhere – TV shows, commercials, multiple blockbuster movies, elevator music, hotel lobbies, and even caller tunes. It is a timeless classic that mostly everyone would enjoy. It is a collection of 4 concertos that capture the very essence and feeling of the four seasons and human nature itself. The sonnets that come along with them are equally mesmerizing and do a great job of helping the listener/reader really visualize the music and bring it to life through its extraordinary imagery. It truly is a masterpiece and sits high up with classics like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Moonlight Sonata and Pachelbel’s Canon in D.
Illustrated by Avani Gupta