Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Recorded live at Campbell Memorial Chapel on Sunday, September 23, 2018.


Chatham Baroque
Andrew Fouts, violin
Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba
Scott Pauley, theorbo

with
Cynthia Black & Alice Culin-Ellison, violins
Kristen Linfante, viola
J. Tracy Mortimore, double bass
Justin Wallace, harpsichord



La Primavera

Spring

I. Allegro

Giunt’ è la Primavera e Festosetti
La Salutan gl’ Augei con lieto canto,
Ei fonti allo Spirar de’ Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Spring has arrived with joy
Welcomed by the birds with happy songs,
And the brooks, amidst gentle breezes,
Murmur sweetly as they flow.

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:

The sky is caped in black, and
Thunder and lightning herald a storm
When they fall silent, the birds
Take up again their delightful songs.

II. Largo e pianissimo

E quindi sul fiorito ameno Prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme ‘l Caprar col fido can’ à lato.
And in the pleasant, blossom-filled meadow,
To the gentle murmur of leaves and plants,
The goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

III. Allegro

Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all’ apparir brillante.
To the merry sounds of a rustic bagpipe,
Nymphs and shepherds dance in their beloved spot
When Spring appears in splendour.

L’Estate

Summer

I. Allegro mà non molto

Sotto dura Staggion dal Sole accesa
Langue l’ uom, langue ‘l gregge, ed arde il Pino;
Scioglie il Cucco la Voce, e tosto intesa
Canta la Tortorella e ‘l gardelino.
Under the merciless sun of the season
Languish man and flock, the pine tree burns.
The cuckoo begins to sing and at once
Join in the turtledove and the goldfinch.

Zeffiretti dolce Spira, mà contesa
Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino;
E piange il pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e ‘l suo destino;

A gentle breeze blows, but Boreas
Is roused to combat suddenly with his neighbor,
And the shepherd weeps because overhead
Hangs the fearsome storm, and his destiny.

II. Adagio

Toglie alle Membra Lasse il Suo riposo
Il Timore de’ Lampi, e tuoni fieri
E de mosche, e mosconi il Stuol furioso!
His tired limbs are robbed of rest
By his fear of the lightning and the frightful thunder
And by the flies and hornets in furious swarms!

III. Presto

Ah, che pur troppo i Suoi timor Son veri
Tuona e fulmina il Ciel e grandinoso
Tronca il capo alle Spiche e a’ grani alteri.
Oh alas! his fears are only too real.
The sky thunders, flares, and with hailstones
severs the heads of the proud grain crops.

L’Autunno

Autumn

I. 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
The peasant celebrates with dancing and singing
The pleasure of the rich harvest,
And full of the liquor of Bacchus
They end their merrymaking with a sleep.

II. 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.
All are made to leave off dancing and singing
By the air which, now mild, gives pleasure
And by the season, which invites many
To find their pleasure in a sweet sleep.

III. Allegro

I Cacciator alla nov’ alba à caccia
Con corni, Schioppi, e canni escono fuore
Fugge la belva, e Seguono la traccia;
The hunters set out at dawn, off to the hunt,
With horns and guns and dogs they venture out.
The beast flees and they are close on its trail.

Già Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De’ Schioppi e cani, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.

Already terrified and wearied by the great noise
Of the guns and dogs, and wounded as well,
It tries feebly to escape, but is bested and dies.

L’Inverno

Winter

I. Allegro non molto

Aggiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti
Al Severo Spirar d’ orrido vento,
Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
E pel Soverchio gel batter i denti;
Frozen and shivering in the icy snow,
In the severe blasts of a terrible wind,
To run stamping one’s feet each moment,
One’s teeth chattering through the cold.

II. Largo

Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento
To spend quiet and happy times by the fire
While outside the rain soaks everyone.

III. Allegro

Caminar Sopra il giaccio, e à passo lento
Per timor di cader girsene intenti;
To walk on the ice with tentative steps,
Going carefully for fear of falling.

Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader à terra
Di nuove ir Sopra ‘l giaccio e correr forte
Sin ch’ il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;

To go in haste, slide, and fall down to the ground,
To go again on the ice and run,
In case the ice cracks and opens.

Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
Sirocco, Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra
Quest’ é ‘l verno, mà tal, che gioja apporte

To hear leaving their iron-gated house Sirocco,
Boreas, and all the winds in battle—
This is winter, but it brings joy.

Program Notes

By Andrew Fouts

My early memories of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are from listening to a cassette tape that lived in my mom’s Ford Aerostar. There were two concerti per side, and each season lasted about the length of the ride to or from school. We listened to them over and over, and on the rare occasion that it rained in that area of California, the relentless, swirling motives of Summer or Winter always seemed a perfect accompaniment to the car ride with the frantic beating windshield wipers and beading droplets whisked aside by the wind as the outside world flew by. It felt like a fortress, our car then—a moveable hearth keeping us from the storm.

Living in Pittsburgh gives one a deeper understanding of the kinds of weather that Vivaldi describes. We know well here the sudden onslaught of a summer storm, its clangor and fury; or the bitter whip of a “wintry mix,” feeling one’s chest bound up and shivering with cold, walking cautiously on the ice. The elation and release of spring are magnified tenfold when as late, fleeting, and fair as ours is here. And though I don’t necessarily know the thrill of the hunt (well, perhaps of a sort), I am well acquainted with the pleasures of a fall feast, and as well with Bacchian bliss, and sometimes its bluster. I’ve never feared losing my flock of sheep to a storm, but recently have feared losing my roof.

Among these many vignettes Vivaldi paints, a recurrent one he particularly seems to like is a good nap. I can definitely relate. Each concerto includes one, or a state of repose, as the middle movement in between states of activity. Spring’s goatherd naps under a tree, Summer’s shepherd enjoys momentary refuge from the storm, worried by the distant thunder. Autumn’s wine-filled revelers fall to a deep sleep before the hunt. And in Winter, there is solace beside the hearth. Besides their descriptive or narrative purpose, these breaks serve the compositional structure as well by giving us the middle movement in the particular concerto form that Vivaldi had come to define.

The concerto genre, by the time Vivaldi was writing them, existed in a few different formal iterations. In the 17th century, the word had been used to describe various arrangements of instruments and/or voices, but by the 18th century, two distinct forms had taken hold. The Corellian Concerto Grosso, widely emulated, consisted of at least 4 movements, alternating between slow and fast, in which usually two concertino players are given prominence amongst the backup ripieno players, kind of like a reinforced trio sonata. Alternately, Vivaldi set the bar with the 3-movement concerto (fast–slow (nap)–fast), where at least one instrumental soloist alternates between passages of solo virtuosity that riff on and develop the musical material, and joining the section for the ritornelli—the return of the initially stated phrases. It’s not dissimilar from principal dancers stepping out from the corps de ballet to dazzle, while the rest demur and defer, framing, supporting, and focusing attention on the principals.

Vivaldi superimposes his 3-movement structure so craftily with the narratives of his Seasons—it is one device among many. He may have written the accompanying sonnets as well, which he had printed in every part above the corresponding musical passages. And don’t even get me started on his use of keys: Spring’s bright E major, Summer’s foreboding G minor, and Fall’s pastoral F major, turning to icy F minor. And out of ingeniously crafted scales and arpeggios, rapid, idiomatic figurations juxtaposed with sustained, languorous harmonic progressions, out of the right notes and the most rhetorical rests, comes to life the text without even speaking it, and the universal experience of life on our planet resounds, even across three hundred years, all the way from Mantua to comparatively weather-less Sacramento, where it incited well my imagination on an otherwise ordinary ride to elementary school.


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