The Four Seasons is the best known of Vivaldi's works. Though three of the concerti are wholly original, the first, "Spring", borrows patterns from a sinfonia in the first act of Vivaldi's contemporaneous opera Il Giustino. The inspiration for the concertos is not the countryside around Mantua, as initially supposed, where Vivaldi was living at the time, since according to Karl Heller they could have been written as early as 1716–1717, while Vivaldi was engaged with the court of Mantua only in 1718.
They were a revolution in musical conception: in them Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, storms, drunken dancers, hunting parties from both the hunters' and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires.
Unusual 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—in other words, 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 "Spring", when the goatherd sleeps, his barking dog can be heard in the viola section. The music is elsewhere similarly evocative of other natural sounds. Vivaldi divided each concerto into three movements (fast–slow–fast), and, likewise, each linked sonnet into three sections.
Vivaldi's arrangement is as follows:
Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, "Spring" (La primavera)
There is some debate as to whether the four concertos were written to accompany four sonnets or vice versa. Though it is not known who wrote the accompanying sonnets, the theory that Vivaldi wrote them is supported by the fact that each sonnet is broken into three sections, each neatly corresponding to a movement in the concerto. Regardless of the sonnets' authorship, The Four Seasons can be classified as program music, instrumental music intended to evoke something extra-musical, and an art form which Vivaldi was determined to prove sophisticated enough to be taken seriously.
In addition to these sonnets, Vivaldi provided instructions such as "The barking dog" (in the second movement of "Spring"), "Languor caused by the heat" (in the first movement of "Summer"), and "the drunkards have fallen asleep" (in the second movement of "Autumn").
A new translation of the sonnets into English by Armand D'Angour was published in 2019.
Allegro Giunt' è la Primavera e festosetti La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto, E i fonti allo Spirar de' Zeffiretti Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto: Vengon' coprendo l' aer di nero amanto E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti Indi tacendo questi, gl' Augelletti; Tornan' di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:
Largo E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante Dorme 'l Caprar col fido can' à lato.
Allegro Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato Di primavera all' apparir brillante.
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 spring’s beautiful canopy.
Allegro non molto Sotto dura Staggion dal Sole accesa Langue l' huom, langue 'l gregge, ed arde il Pino; Scioglie il Cucco la Voce, e tosto intesa Canta la Tortorella e 'l gardelino. Zeffiro dolce Spira, mà contesa Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino; E piange il Pastorel, perche sospesa Teme fiera borasca, e 'l suo destino;
Adagio e piano – Presto e forte Toglie alle membra lasse il Suo riposo Il timore de' Lampi, e tuoni fieri E de mosche, e mosconi il Stuol furioso!
Presto Ah, che pur troppo i Suo timor Son veri Tuona e fulmina il Ciel e grandinoso Tronca il capo alle Spiche e a' grani alteri.
Allegro non molto 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 e piano – Presto e forte 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.
Allegro Celebra il Vilanel con balli e Canti Del felice raccolto il bel piacere E del liquor de Bacco accesi tanti Finiscono col Sonno il lor godere.
Adagio molto Fà ch' ogn' uno tralasci e balli e canti L' aria che temperata dà piacere, E la Staggion ch' invita tanti e tanti D' un dolcissimo Sonno al bel godere.
Allegro cacciator alla nov' alba à caccia Con corni, Schioppi, e cani escono fuore Fugge la belva, e Seguono la traccia; Già Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore De' Schioppi e cani, ferita minaccia Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.
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.
Allegro non molto Agghiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti Al Severo Spirar d' orrido Vento, Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento; E pel Soverchio gel batter i denti;
Largo Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento
Allegro Caminar Sopra il giaccio, e à passo lento Per timor di cader girsene intenti; Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader à terra Di nuove ir Sopra 'l giaccio e correr forte Sin ch' il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra; Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte Sirocco, Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra Quest' é 'l verno, mà tal, che gioja apporte.
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.
The date and personnel on the first recording of The Four Seasons are disputed. There is a compact disc of a recording made by the violinist Alfredo Campoli taken from acetates of a French radio broadcast; these are thought to date from early in 1939. The first proper electrical recording was made in 1942 by Bernardino Molinari; though his is a somewhat different interpretation from modern performances, it is clearly recognisable as The Four Seasons. Molinari's recording was made for Cetra, and was issued in Italy and subsequently in the United States on six double-sided 78s, in the 1940s. It was then reissued on long-playing album in 1950, and, later, on compact disc.
The first American recording was made in the final week of 1947 by the violinist Louis Kaufman. The recording was made at Carnegie Hall in advance of a scheduled recording ban effective 1 January 1948. The performers were The Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra under Henry Swoboda, Edith Weiss-Mann(harpsichord) and Edouard Nies-Berger (organ). This recording helped the re-popularisation of Vivaldi's music in the mainstream repertoire of Europe and America following on the work done by Molinari and others in Italy. It won the French Grand Prix du Disque in 1950, was elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, and was selected the following year for the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress. Kaufman, intrigued to learn that the four concertos were in fact part of a set of twelve, set about finding a full score and eventually recorded the other eight concertos in Zürich in 1950, making his the first recording of Vivaldi's complete Op. 8.
I Solisti di Zagreb, under the baton of Antonio Janigro with Jan Tomasow as violin soloist and Anton Heiller on harpsichord, followed in 1957 on the Vanguard label, further reissued under the Philips and other labels. Wilfrid Mellers, an English music critic, musicologist and composer wrote of this performance, "the soloists phrase their lyricism beautifully." John Thornton wrote about this recording, "Here is matchless ensemble playing, topped by Tomasow's secure playing. Janigro reveals his talent for conducting, which competes with his considerable talent for cello playing."
Ivan Supek wrote of this recording:
I will attempt to convey to you how much this performance means to me, and might mean to you, as well. My first encounter with the records took place almost thirty years ago, when “our” Antonio revealed to me the true significance of the piece of another great Antonio, his famous namesake, whose Le Quattro Staggioni I could hardly listen any more because of the "grand", actually too grand, performances usual at that time, let alone enjoy them. What a change it was – a window into a new world; music is fast, precise and true to life, the intonation is correct, the continuo appropriate, and the violin of beautiful sound in fitting correlation with the Zagreb Soloists. The self-assured and fine tone of Jan Tomasow's solo violin relates perfectly with the Soloists; the entire performance is impregnated with the spirit of Janigro's perfectionism, leaving the music and its soul fully exposed. It had been for a long time the only performance I could listen to. Only during [the] last decade some new kids, playing authentic instruments, have offered to me similar pleasure and insights into the music of Antonio Vivaldi and, to my great pleasure, Janigro's performance is no longer the only choice for me. In my opinion, this also shows how Janigro's performance in co-operation with the Zagreb Soloists was far ahead its time, as corroborated by Igor Stravinsky, who claimed that it was the most beautiful performance of Le Quattro Staggioni he had ever heard, a statement which I only recently learned about. No wonder, since such “bareness” and precision of Janigro's interpretation must have appealed to him. It was much later that I discovered the excellence of the recording as well. At that time, the Zagreb Soloists were recording for Vanguard, mostly in Vienna at various locations, and this particular recording was made in 1957 at Rotenturmstrassaal. Recording was produced by Seymour Solomon, chief producer of the entire edition, who would personally come from the USA to oversee every recording to be made by the Zagreb Soloists, whereas the Vanguard branch in Vienna "Amadeo" was in charge of the organisation. (My gratitude to one of the founders of the Zagreb Soloists, Mr. Stjepan Aranjoš, for providing me with some important insights). Janigro was a perfectionist, often rather merciless, not only in matters of music but also in terms of the sound, so he participated directly and intensely in [the] recording process, which was quite uncommon at that time. All that great care, by all participants in the project, is amply reflected in the recording itself, resulting in an airy performance of appropriate spaciousness and extension, with only occasional “congestion” of high tones in forte sections.
Paul Shoemaker wrote about this recording:
Nothing I have heard changes my view that the best Seasons ever was performed by Jan Tomasow and I Solisti di Zagreb and beautifully recorded by Vanguard at the very beginning of the stereo era. If you have almost every other version of the Seasons, you’ll want this one, too. If money and space are no obstacle, it might be worth having.
The World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music in 1952 cites only two recordings of The Four Seasons – by Molinari and Kaufman. By 2011[update], approximately 1,000 recorded versions have been made since Campoli's in 1939.
Classical musicians have sought to distinguish their recordings of The Four Seasons, with historically informed performances, and embellishments, to the point of varying the instruments and tempi, or playing notes differently from the listener's expectation (whether specified by the composer or not). It is said that Vivaldi's work presents such opportunities for improvisation.
Derivative works of these concerti include arrangements, transcriptions, covers, remixes, samples, and parodies in music — themes in theater and opera, soundtracks in films (or video games), and choreography in ballet (along with contemporary dance, figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, etc.) — either in their entirety, single movements, or medleys. Antonio Vivaldi appears to have started this trend of adapting music from The Four Seasons, and since then it has expanded into many aspects of the performing arts (as have other instrumental & vocal works by the composer). This contest between harmony and invention (as it were) now involves various genres around the world:
1726 (or 1734)
Vivaldi re-scored the Allegro movement from the "Spring" concerto, both as the opening sinfonia (third movement), and chorus (adding lyrics) for his opera Dorilla in Tempe.
Vivaldi based his setting of "Gelido in ogni vena", an aria from Metastasio's Siroe, re di Persia libretto, on the first movement of the "Winter" concerto. Vivaldi's Siroe, containing an aria on this text, premiered in 1727 (music lost). An aria on the "Gelido in ogni vena" text also appeared in his 1730 Argippo (music lost). In 1731, he inserted the extant version of this aria in his Farnace when this opera was restaged in Pavia.
Nicolas Chédeville (France) arranged the concerti (as "Le printemps, ou Les saisons amusantes") for hurdy-gurdy or musette, violin, flute, and continuo.
The French composer Michel Corrette composed and published a choral motet, Laudate Dominum de Coelis, subtitled Motet à Grand Chœur arrangé dans le Concerto de Printemps de Vivaldi. The work, for choir and orchestra, consists of the words of Psalm 116 set to the music from the Spring concerto with vocal soloists singing the solo concerto parts.
Arnie Roth (United States) recorded "The Four Seasons Suite", including sonnets (recited by Patrick Stewart). This may not qualify as a derivative work, depending on whether Vivaldi's translated sonnets were meant to be narrated with the music (versus being read in Italian, or silently by the audience).
The Baronics (Canada) recorded surf guitar versions of one movement from each of the concerti.
French musician Jacques Loussier composed and recorded, with his trio, jazz-swing interpretations of the concerti.
Jochen Brusch (Germany) & Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen (Denmark) recorded arrangements of the concerti for violin and organ.
Bond (Australia/Britain) recorded two singles based on the "Winter" concerto, with electric strings (violin, cello, viola), vocals, and electronic beats. They similarly interpreted a movement from each season for Peugeot car advertisements (2009).
Ferhan & Ferzan Önder (Turkish twin sisters) recorded a transcription of the concerti for two pianos by Antun Tomislav Šaban.
Celtic Woman (Ireland) recorded the "Winter" Largo with vocals (Italian lyrics). The youngest former member, Chloë Agnew, originally recorded it for her Walking in the Air album which was released in 2002.
PercaDu (Israel) performed an arrangement of the Allegro non molto movement from the "Winter" concerto, for marimbas with chamber orchestra.
Tim Slade (Australia) directed 4, a documentary which follows four classical violinists in their homelands (of Tokyo; Thursday Island, New York; and Lapland), as they relate to Vivaldi's Four Seasons.
Seoul Metropolitan Traditional Music Orchestra performed the concerti with arrangement for Korean traditional music (gugak) orchestra by Seong-gi Kim. It was recorded live and released with CD from Synnara Music same year.
Sveceny & Dvorak (Czech Republic) produced both an album and stage production of world music based on the concerti.
Yves Custeau (Canada) recorded a rock & roll "one-man band" version of the "Spring" Allegro.
Daisy Jopling (England/United States) recorded a violin & hip-hop version of the Allegro non molto movement from the "Winter" concerto, and also performs it reggae-style.
Innesa Tymochko (Ukraine) performed her crossover version of the Presto from the "Summer" concerto, for violin.
Wez Bolton (Isle of Man) recorded a cover version of the Allegro non molto movement from the "Winter" concerto, based on the Japanese video game "Beatmania" remix.
Christian Blind (France) recorded a surf guitar/acid rock version of the Allegro movement from the "Spring" concerto.
Sodagreen (Taiwan) launched their "Vivaldi Project" which resulted in a series of pop albums based on the concerti: Spring/Daylight, Summer/Fever, Autumn/Story and Winter/Endless. The project was completed in 2015 with the release of the fourth album.
Art Color Ballet (Poland) performed their "4 elements" show to the Presto movement from the "Summer" concerto, arranged by Hadrian Filip Tabęcki (Kameleon).
David Garrett (Germany) recorded a crossover version of Vivaldi's winter (allegro non molto), combining classical violin with modern rock music.
Black Smith (Russia) performed the Presto movement from the "Summer" concerto in the style of thrash metal music (likewise, this movement has been covered numerous times by aspiring electric guitar virtuosos, and other crossover musicians).
Angels (Greece) performed their crossover version of the same movement, scored for electric strings.
Szentpeteri Csilla (Hungary) performed her crossover version of the same movement, scored for piano.
Leonel Valbom (Portugal) remixed the Presto movement from the "Summer" concerto with VST Synths.
Tim Kliphuis (Netherlands) performed the Allegro from the "Spring" movement as a crossover of world-music styles.
Aura (Japan) recorded an a cappella arrangement of the concerti, and had also performed Vivaldi's Spring chorus (from Dorilla in Tempe) on a prior album.
Sinfonity (Spain) performed the concerti for "electric-guitar orchestra".
Bachod Chirmof (USA) produced a MIDI recording & animation of Vivaldi's winter (movements I & III).
Tornado Classic (Russia) performed the Presto movement from the "Summer" concerto, with electric guitar and slap bass.
The symphonic rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra used a portion of the first movement of the "Winter" concerto in their song "Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night)" on their Dreams of Fireflies EP.
Richard Galliano (France) recorded the concerti for accordion, as well as a few of his opera arias on the instrument.
Ballet Arizona performed original choreography by artistic director Ib Andersen in an outdoor performance set against the lush Southwest landscape of the Desert Botanical Gardens. 
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