Monday, January 1, 2018

January 1, 1948: Before the recording ban, a Carnegie Hall performance revives Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Last updated August 26, 2018.

Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons)

Antonio Vivaldi (composer)

Published: 1725

First Performed: ?

Sales: 0.6 in UK

Peak: 130

Quotable: “A cycle of the most popular works ever written” – Aaron Rabushka, All Music Guide

Genre: classical > concerto > violin

Parts/Movements and Average Lengths:

  1. Violin Concerto, for violin, strings & continuo in E major ("La Primavera," The Four Seasons; "Il cimento" No. 1), Op.8/1, RV 269 [10:10]
  2. Violin Concerto, for violin, strings & continuo in G minor ("L'estate," The Four Seasons; "Il cimento" No. 2), Op. 8/2, RV 315 [10:30]
  3. Violin Concerto, for violin, strings & continuo in F major ("L'autunno," The Four Seasons; "Il cimento" No. 3), Op.8/3, RV 293 [11:20]
  4. Violin Concerto, for violin, strings & continuo in F minor ("L'inverno," The Four Seasons; "Il cimento" No. 4), Op. 8/4, RV 297 [8:50]


On January 1, 1948, a recording ban was instituted in the United States. Before the ban, however, American violinist Louis Kaufman revived The Four Seasons, “the best known of Vivaldi's works,” WK with his performance at Carnegie Hall, the first American recording of the work. In 2002 it was elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame and the next year was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry. WK

It “is a group of four violin concerti” WK “written around 1721 and were published in 1725 in Amsterdam.” WK Each “gives musical expression to a season of the year.” WK “The inspiration for the concertos was probably the countryside around Mantua, where Vivaldi was living at the time. They were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized)…buzzing flies, storms…frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires.” WK The approach “imbued ‘The Four Seasons’ with an undimming freshness and propelled it to undiminished popularity.” R1

“Unusually for the period, Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying sonnets (possibly written by the composer himself) that elucidated what it was in the spirit of each season that his music was intended to evoke. The concerti therefore stand as one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what would come to be called program music – i.e., music with a narrative element. Vivaldi took great pains to relate his music to the texts of the poems, translating the poetic lines themselves directly into the music on the page. For example, in the middle section of the Spring concerto, where the goatherd sleeps, his barking dog can be heard in the viola section.” WK

“Though three of the concerti are wholly original, the first, Spring, borrows motifs from a Sinfonia in the first act of Vivaldi's contemporaneous opera Il Giustino.” WK “The outer movements…are cast more or less in the traditional ritronello form that was the standard for baroque solo concerti. The opening Allegro gets off to a cheerful start, and subsequent episodes include depictions of bird calls, flowing brooks, rain and thunder. The Largo that follows projects three images at once: a sleeping goatherd (solo violin), rustling leaves (muted violins in the orchestra), and a barking dog (violas). The concluding Allegro returns to the cheery atmosphere of the beginning, rejoicing in the mellow merriment and security of a jaunting shepherds’ dance.” R1

“The first movement of the Summer concerto is orthodox in form, somewhat less so in feeling. It begins with a tutti that represents summery langour and stickiness from the heat. The solo violin speeds things up as it imitates the sounds of a turtle dove and a goldfinch as a cello accompanies with the sounds of a cuckoo. The opening tutti returns, and the stuffiness of summer winds slow and fast is projected in the subsequent solo passages. Some of the solos contrast strikingly in meter and texture with the tutti. The adagio second movement alternates slightly melancholy phrases from the violin with resolute repeated-note phrases from the orchestra that depict the swarming of summer insects. In the final Presto a summer rainstorm breaks loose, with furious repeated notes, scales and eventually fingered tremolos from the orchestral violins leading the way.” R2

“The Autumn concerto’s opening Allegro begins with a jubilant celebration of a harvest. Peasant dancing proceeds with full and abandoned happiness to a joyful foot-stomping (grape-stomping?) beat, and a few drunkards make themselves heard along the way. The subsequent adagio molto, which contains no solo passages, depicts sleeping drunkards in a mostly non-melodic stupor. The autumn rejoicing concludes in the final allegro, where we hear the sounds of a exhilirating hunt. Again the rhythm is unequivocally extroverted, and the sounds of horns (handily implied by the solo violin) and dogs (grumbling in the the low register of the orchestral violins) are unmistakable.” R3

“The opening Allegro non molto of the Winter concerto begins with repeated staccato chords vividly projecting the feel of wintertime chill. Several virtuoso passages for the violin represent the incisive winter winds, and a tutti rich in rapid repeated notes depicts people running and stamping their feet to ward off the cold. The subsequent Largo depicts winter raindrops with pizzicati in the orchestra over which the soloist spins a gorgeous singing theme representing those viewing the rain and ice from inside a warm home. The concluding Allegro opens with a depiction of precarious walking on ice, followed by the blasting of winter winds. Near the end there is a contrastingly mild tutti before some furious scalar passages and repeated notes take us out with a full blast of winter cold.” R4

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