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!
For those interested, this recording features the incomparable Itzhak Perlman both conducting and playing the lead violin part with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
There is a period of music called the baroque (pronounced bar-OAK). Typically, this describes most music written from the mid-1600s to the mid-1700s. "Spring" from the Four Seasons is about the most baroque-sounding piece of music there is. It is baroque music, as far as I'm concerned.
Not only is this a showy piece for a violinist, it's just fun to listen to. It represents the joy of spring and rebirth. It just makes you feel happy. All of the Four Seasons invoke emotion, and different types of emotion. It's a brilliant masterpiece.
I only had you listen to the first movement. Here are the second and third movements from Spring, if you'd like to hear them:
As I'd mentioned the Canadian Brass recording, here is their rendition of the 1st movement of Spring:
And finally, here's something that's a little weird. In 1993, Ilan Rechtman took some MIDI keyboards in hand and an Apple Macintosh IIfx (which was the biggest and the baddest of the Mac line until the PowerMac 9500 in 1995). Teaming up with Pierre Saint-Denis, a flutist, they put together an album called "Vivaldi's Revenge: The New Four Seasons". They did their own rendition of the entire Four Seasons. For your amusement, here's their rendition of the 1st movement of Spring:
And here's one more. The Four Seasons (especially Spring) show up in popular culture everywhere. To demonstrate this, here's a clip from "The Simpsons", an episode titled "On a Clear Day I Can't See My Sister" from Season 16. Bart has pranked Lisa one too many times, and she has successfully gotten a restraining order against him. Bart can now no longer come within 200 feet of Lisa. This has forced him to live in the backyard of their house (which has become much larger than in other episodes) in a tent. After some time, it becomes clear that he's starting to be raised by "the wolves", as depicted in this scene. I'm sure you'll recognize the music that the Simpsons writers chose:
Click to download movie