Antonio Vivaldi (pronounced vih-VAHL-dee) was born in Venice, Italy in 1678. He was a well known priest, composer, and an excellent violinist. He wrote a number of concertos featuring violin, mandolin, and other instruments.
A concerto is usually a piece featuring a solo instrument (an instrument playing all by itself), like a piano, a violin, and so on. It's accompanied by an orchestra. In Vivaldi's day, orchestras were considerably smaller than they are today, and in fact, many of Vivaldi's "concertos" were actually written for a solo instrument accompanied by a string quartet (four players: two violins, a viola, and a cello), and a basso continuo (usually an organ or harpsichord just playing chords, very much in the background).
In 1723, Vivaldi wrote his best known work. It was a collection of four violin concertos. Each concerto had three movements: a fast first movement, a slow second movement, and a fast third movement. Each concerto depicted a season of the year, in the order of "La primavera" (Spring), "L'estate" (Summer), "L'autunno" (Autumn), and "L'inverno" (Winter). This collection is known today as The Four Seasons.
As it turns out, each concerto was written to correspond to one of four sonnets (or poems). No one knows who wrote these sonnets, but most suspect they were written by Vivaldi himself. The sonnets described scenes that were then depicted by the music. For example, in the second movement of "Spring", he describes a barking dog. In the first movement of "Summer", he describes the "languor caused by the heat". The first movement of "Winter" depicts walking through a freezing rainstorm (remember, this is Italy; they don't get much snow).
I'm certain that I'd already heard this piece before I really started studying it. My first recording was, once again, a benevolent gift from my Junior High band director, Jerry Borchardt. Mr. Borchardt had given me a tape he made of the Canadian Brass Quintet. On one side, was an album containing many baroque recordings (that cut off at the end; something that would torment me for years). On the other side was the Canadian Brass performing Vivalid's Four Seasons. I still have that tape today, though I have since purchased the CDs from whence they were originally recorded.
We're going to listen to the first movement from "La Primavera" (Spring). It is marked Allegro ("fast, bright, lively"). This recording is 3 minutes 22 seconds long. Enjoy!