Vivaldi wrote his iconic ‘The Four Seasons’ exactly 300 years ago in 1721. Even after three centuries, besides remaining a concert favourite, it has been featured in many films such as ‘Indecent Proposal’, in ‘Pretty Woman and ‘Shine’, besides ‘The Simpsons’. Described as the ‘Red Priest’ for his flaming red hair and being baptized immediately after he was born at Venice in 1678, Antonio Vivaldi was the eldest of a large family, who studied violin with his father.
Abandoning priestly duties, he engaged himself in a girl’s orphanage and musical conservatory, La Pieta, as a music director, composer and violin teacher. In fact, during the thirty odd years here, Vivaldi produced over four hundred works comprising concertos and similar pieces. By the time he died in 1741, the Italian composer, had left an inedible mark on the form of the concerto and the style of Baroque instrumental music.
Vivaldi is immediately identified, by both the music layperson and the music aficionado, with his path breaking, The Four Seasons. It would not be an overstatement to say Vivaldi’s set of four violin concertos, The Four Seasons are the world’s most popular and remembered pieces of Baroque music; because with their programmatic depiction of the changing seasons and their technical innovations, the four violin concertos broke new ground. According to The Vintage Guide to Classical Music, ‘…These concertos show off his personality at its most engaging—no great profundity of feeling or contrapuntal mastery, but rather a rhythmic drive that runs indefatigably through the fast movements, fine lyric melodies in the slow movements, great clarity of formal organization throughout, and notable imagination in writing for the strings’.
3rd Movement of Summer from The Four Seasons
The origins of Vivaldi’s musical outpourings can be traced to his long stint at La Pietà with the appearance of printed collections of his trio sonatas and violin sonatas between 1705 and 1709. But it was in 1711 that his first and most significant set of concerti for violin and string orchestra (Opus 3,L’estro armonica) was published followed by three more collections of his concerti (Opuses 4, 6, and 7) and one collection of sonatas (Opus 5).
It can be said that it was in the 1720s that Vivaldi’s career peaked, making available instrumental music to patrons and customers throughout Europe, though he was based out of Venice. Between 1725 and 1729 were published five new collections of concerti (opuses 8–12).
Undoubtedly, Vivaldi’s impact on the growth of Baroque music was substantial. By introducing transformations in music for the church, the opera house and the concert hall, he left behind a unique legacy. But his most notable contribution was in his music for strings, wherein he brought in a range of new styles and techniques to string playing and consolidated one of its most important genres, the concerto. Vivaldi’s concertos became a model for his contemporaries, and the form was soon one of the most important in eighteenth century Europe.
Besides the legendary The Four Seasons, this great composer will be remembered for his other works like Gloria, Stabat Mater, L’Olimpiade, L’Estro Armonic, Concerto for Two Trumpsets…
Stabat mater dolorosa – from Stabat Mater
Though he received acclaim for his pieces, Vivaldi will be uniquely recalled for his contribution to enriching the violin repertoire. An amateur who was in the audience while Vivaldi played the violin had remarked thus: ‘Towards the end [of the opera] Vivaldi played an admirable solo to accompany an aria, at the end of which he added an improvisation that really frightened me, for I doubt anything like it was done before, or ever will be again… [it was done] on all four strings, with imitations at an incredible speed ’.