The Four Seasons (Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a set of four violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi. Composed in 1723, The Four Seasons is Vivaldi's best-known work, and is among the most popular pieces in the classical music repertoire. The texture of each concerto is varied, each resembling its respective season. For example, "Winter" is peppered with silvery pizzicato notes from the high strings, calling to mind icy rain, whereas "Summer" evokes a thunderstorm in its final movement, which is why the movement is often called "Storm" (as noted in the list of derivative works).
The concertos were first published in 1725 as part of a set of twelve concerti, Vivaldi's Op. 8, entitled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention). Vivaldi dedicated their publication to a Bohemian patron, Count Václav Morzin (of Vrchlabí 1676-1737), and in so mentioned the count's longstanding regard for these four, in particular (which had apparently been performed with the nobleman's orchestra, in Prague's Morzin Palace)—although his dedication may have been closely related to the completion of an Augustinian monastery that year, where Vivaldi, a priest himself, refers to Morzin, the church's dedicator, as "Chamberlain and Counsellor to His Majesty, the Catholic Emperor"—while (as Maestro di Musica in Italy) Vivaldi presents them anew, with sonnets or enhancements for clear interpretation. The first four concertos are designated Le quattro stagioni, each being named after a season. Each one is in three movements, with a slow movement between two faster ones (and these movements likewise vary in tempo amid the seasons as a whole). At the time of writing The Four Seasons, the modern solo form of the concerto had not yet been defined (typically a solo instrument and accompanying orchestra). Vivaldi's original arrangement for solo violin with string quartet and basso continuo helped to define the form of the concerto.
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 these sonnets, there is a theory that Vivaldi wrote them himself, given that each sonnet is broken down into three sections, neatly corresponding to a movement in the concerto. Whoever wrote the sonnets, The Four Seasons may be classified as program music, instrumental music that intends to evoke something extra-musical.
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"). The Four Seasons is used in the 1981 film The Four Seasons along with other Vivaldi concertos for flute.
The Four Seasons by Vivaldi
Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, "La primavera" (Spring)
The first recording of The Four Seasons is a matter of some dispute. There is a compact disc of one made by the violinist Alfredo Campoli which is 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, and though his adaptation is somewhat different from what we have come to expect from modern performances, it is clearly recognisable. This first recording by Molinari was made for Cetra, 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 was once again reissued on compact disc.
Not surprisingly, further recordings followed. The next was in 1948 by the violinist Louis Kaufman, mistakenly credited as the 'first' recording, made during the night in New York using 'dead' studio time and under pressure from a forthcoming musicians strike. 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 in 2003 was selected 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.
The World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music in 1952 cites only two recordings of The Four Seasons – by Molinari and Kaufman. By 2011 approximately 1,000 different recorded versions have been made since Campoli's in 1939.
Commensurably, it has become an aspect of these recordings for classical musicians to distinguish their version of The Four Seasons from others', with historically informed performances, and embellishments, to the point of varying the instruments and tempi, or playing notes differently than one might expect (whether specified by the composer). 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:
Vivaldi re-scored his Spring allegro, both as the opening sinfonia (third movement), and chorus (adding lyrics) for his opera Dorilla in Tempe.
Nicolas Chédeville (France) arranged Vivaldi's four seasons (as "Le printems, 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 Vivaldi's Spring movement with vocal soloists singing the solo concerto parts.
Ástor Piazzolla (Argentina) published Estaciones Porteñas, "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires", and these have been included in "eight seasons" performances, along with Vivaldi's work, by various artists.
Arnie Roth (America) recorded "The Four Seasons Suite", including sonnets (recited by Patrick Stewart). This may or may not be considered a derivative work, depending on whether Vivaldi's translated sonnets were meant to be narrated with the music (versus being read in Italiano, or silently by the audience).
The Baronics (Canada) recorded surf guitar versions of the violin concertos in Vivaldi's four seasons (one movement from each).
French musician Jacques Loussier composed and recorded, with his trio, jazz-swing interpretations of the Four Seasons.
Jochen Brusch (Germany) & Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen (Denmark) recorded arrangements of Vivaldi's 4 seasons for violin and organ.
Bond (Australia/Britain) recorded two singles based on Vivaldi's winter, with electric strings (violin, cello, viola), vocals, and electronic beats,. They similarly interpreted a movement from each season for Peugeot car advertisements (2009).
Tim Slade (Australia) directed a documentary (entitled "4") of four classical violinists and their homelands (in Tokyo, Thursday Island, New York, and Lapland), as they relate to Vivaldi's four seasons.
Sveceny & Dvorak (Czech Republic) produced both an album and stage production of world music based on Vivaldi's four seasons.
Yves Custeau (Canada) recorded a rock & roll "one man band" version of the spring allegro.
Christian Blind (France) recorded a surf-guitar/acid-rock version of Vivaldi's spring allegro.
Art Color Ballet (Poland) performed their "4 elements" show to Vivaldi's summer presto, arranged by pl: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 Vivaldi's summer presto 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 Vivaldi's summer presto, for electric strings.
Szentpeteri Csilla (Hungary) performed her crossover version of Vivaldi's summer presto, for piano.
Leonel Valbom (Portugal) remixed Vivaldi's summer presto with VST Synths.
Tim Kliphuis (Netherlands) performed Vivaldi's spring allegro, as a crossover of world music styles.
German-born British composer Max Richter created a postmodern and minimalist recomposition released as "Recomposed Vivaldi – The Four Seasons". Working with solo violinist Daniel Hope, Richter discarded around 75% of the original source material while the running time was reduced to 44 minutes playing time.
Aura (Japan) recorded an a cappella arrangement of Vivaldi's four seasons, and had also performed Vivaldi's Spring chorus (from Dorilla in Tempe) on a prior album.
Sinfonity (Spain) performed Vivaldi's four seasons for "electric guitar orchestra".
Bachod Chirmof (America) produced a MIDI recording & animation of Vivaldi's winter (movements I & III).
Tornado Classic (Russia) performed Vivaldi's summer presto, with electric guitar and slap bass.
Richard Galliano (France) recorded Vivaldi's 4 seasons concertos for accordion, as well as a few of his opera arias on the instrument.