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Classical Breakdown

3. The Four Seasons, how Vivaldi depicts the world in sound

September 10, 2019

Poetry, falling on the ice, and summer storms, there is so much to hear and discover in Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpiece, The Four Seasons. In this episode, we get into the details on how Vivaldi uses strings to depict animals likes gnats and a barking dog, a crackling fire, and even chattering teeth. Listening to this work at times is also like watching a play, as Vivaldi depicts entire scenes with the musicians as actors. There are also different ways this music is performed, turning the music into something completely different. Classical WETA evening host James Jacobs joins me as we explore this centuries-old masterpiece with a legendary recording and the accompanying sonnets.

Show Notes

Links to the two different recordings we sampled from in this episode:

 

The Sonnets

Spring 

Allegro
Springtime is upon us. 
The birds celebrate her return with festive song, 
and murmuring streams are 
softly caressed by the breezes. 
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, 
casting their dark mantle over heaven, 
Then they die away to silence, 
and the birds take up their charming songs once more. 

Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches 
rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, 
his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro 
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, 
nymphs and shepherds lightly dance 
beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.
 

Summer

Allegro non molto - allegro
Under a hard season, fired up by the sun 
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine 
We hear the cuckoo's voice; 
then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard. 
Soft breezes stir the air, but threatening 
the North Wind sweeps them suddenly aside. 
The shepherd trembles, 
fearing violent storms and his fate. 

Adagio – Presto 
The fear of lightning and fierce thunder 
Robs his tired limbs of rest 
As gnats and flies buzz furiously around. 

Presto 
Alas, his fears were justified 
The Heavens thunder and roar and with hail 
Cut the head off the wheat and damages the grain.
 

Autumn

Allegro
Celebrates the peasant, with songs and dances, 
The pleasure of a bountiful harvest. 
And fired up by Bacchus' liquor, 
many end their revelry in sleep. 

Adagio molto 
Everyone is made to forget their cares and to sing and dance 
By the air which is tempered with pleasure 
And (by) the season that invites so many, many 
Out of their sweetest slumber to fine enjoyment 

Allegro 
The hunters emerge at the new dawn, 
And with horns and dogs and guns depart upon their hunting 
The beast flees and they follow its trail; 
Terrified and tired of the great noise 
Of guns and dogs, the beast, wounded, threatens 
Languidly to flee, but harried, dies.
 

winter

Allegro non molto
To tremble from cold in the icy snow, 
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind; 
To run, stamping one's feet every moment, 
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold 

Largo 
Before the fire to pass peaceful, 
Contented days while the rain outside pours down. 

Allegro 
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, 
for fear of tripping and falling. 
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, 
rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up. 
We feel the chill north winds course through the home 
despite the locked and bolted doors... 
this is winter, which nonetheless 
brings its own delights.
Antonio Vivaldi's, The Four Seasons, has inspired countless metal guitarists!