Neighborhood Series: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons

Vadim Gluzman, violin & leader
Katherine McLin, violin
Jennifer Ross, violin
Solomon Liang, violin

About the Music

The Jon Mac Anderson Program Notes underwritten by Porter, Wright, Morris and Arthur LLP

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, RV 580
Instrumentation: Scored for four solo violins and strings
Duration: 10 minutes

Antonio Vivaldi’s beloved Four Violin Concerto in B minor was the tenth of twelve concertos for strings the composer published in 1711. Vivaldi typically published his music at home in Italy but this collection, released by a Dutch publisher, marked the first time his music was published abroad. Gracing the cover was the titillating title L’estro armonico (The Harmonic Inspiration), which no doubt tempted the purchasing public.

Born to a barber-turned-violinist, young Antonio came by the violin naturally and learned quickly under his father’s tutelage. The pair would tour together while Antonio was still young but by 15, the young virtuoso was thinking seriously about a career in the church and so began studying for the priesthood. He earned the nickname Il Prete Rosso, “The Red Priest,” on account of his flaming red hair, but Vivaldi, finding his true calling elsewhere, never took his holy orders. By the age of 24 he was serving as maestro di violin at Pio Ospedale della Pietà, a Venetian girls’ orphanage. Here Vivaldi would remain, teaching and composing for vocal and instrumental students for the next thirty years.

Over the course of his lifetime Vivaldi dispatched more than 500 concertos (in addition to almost 50 operas and a significant amount of religious vocal music), including well over two hundred just for violin. Only a handful of these have remained in common repertoire, most especially The Four Seasons and the B minor Concerto performed today. Given their staggering numbers, Vivaldi did not set out to reinvent the wheel with each new concerto. Rather, he drew on tried and tested forms, which he injected with new melodic ideas, trademark sequences, and driving rhythms. The Four Violin Concerto has remained a favorite among violinists and audiences alike on account of its thrilling combinations of each of these.

The opening Allegro sparkles with life and energy, the bass lines urging the music ever forward, while the soloists spin out one spine-tingling sequence after another. We do not know if Vivaldi himself took the first violin part at the work’s premiere or left it to one of his talented pupils but we can be assured each of the four soloists tried to outdo the others with improvised runs, trills, and other embellishments. The slow middle movements provide ample opportunity for further ornamentation while the final Allegro, which dances along in 6/8 time and is infused with captivating cross-rhythms, proves a final testament to Vivaldi’s inexhaustible powers of invention.


Pēteris Vasks (b. 1946): Musica Serena
Scored for string orchestra
Duration: 10 minutes

Born April 1946 in Aizpute, Latvia to a Baptist pastor, Pēteris Vasks began studying double bass and composition locally before moving on to larger schools in Riga and Vilnius. He pursued an orchestral career as a member of various Latvian orchestras before turning his attention to teaching and composing, which eventually gained him an international reputation. With time, Vasks developed a highly unique yet accessible musical style that is both folk-like and mystical, with perhaps a sense of spiritualism derived from his upbringing.

ProMusica audiences will remember the composer’s powerful Distant Light performed with Vadim Gluzman in 2018. Tonight, the strings of the orchestra bring you the composer’s hauntingly beautiful Musica Serena, a single movement, ten-minute work composed in 2015 to honor the 70th birthday of Vasks’ long-standing friend and Finnish conductor, Juha Kanga. Constructed in arch form, the Andante cantabile opens with pianissimo violin harmonics that gradually melt into an achingly beautiful theme accompanied by string writing at its most lush. Gradually the music builds in intensity and volume, achieving fortissimo at the work’s center, where it is now marked Maestoso. Throughout the legato (sustained) character of Vasks’ string writing remains forever constant. Having achieved the utmost intensity, the music then subsides, turning back to the calm with which it began. Shimmering tremolos give way to the crystal harmonics of the outset as the music fades away.


Antonio Vivaldi: Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), RV 269, 315, 293 and 297
Instrumentation: Scored for solo violin, strings, and harpsichord
Composed: 1723
Duration: 40 minutes

The majority of Vivaldi’s concertos were composed for the female students of Venice’s Pio Ospedale della Pietà, the city’s famous conservatory for girls. Vivaldi served as music teacher and composer at the conservatory beginning at age 24. Judging from the considerable demands of Vivaldi’s writing, we might safely assume that any number of Ospedale’s students possessed formidable skill. And, of course, as one of the foremost violinists of his day, Vivaldi knew only too well how to exploit a violin or cello’s fullest potential.

The four concertos comprising The Four Seasons are constructed upon a three-movement (fast-slow-fast) plan. The first and third movements are cast as ritornellos, refrains played by the entire (tutti) ensemble that open, return intermittently throughout, and conclude these movements. Between which, a smaller group of soloists, or perhaps only one, plays a series of contrasting episodes. The slow, lyrical middle movement is generally reflective and simple in character. Typically cast in song form (A-B-A), these offer contrast to the more energized—and often more formally complex—movements at its edges.

Vivaldi’s brilliance as an orchestrator allows The Four Seasons to bring a year’s worth of Italian weather to life in sound. These concertos remain a monumental testament to Vivaldi’s inexhaustible ingenuity.

La primavera/ The Spring:
Allegro: The joy of rebirth. A static bass line suggests that winter is only slowly being shaken off. Violins imitate bird calls by way of soft trills and imitative runs while rapid tremolo passages invoke the onset of storms.

Largo: The incessant viola—which Vivaldi instructs to be played “very loudly and abruptly”—evokes the barking of the goatherd’s dog and the flowing melody of the solo violin the slumbering goatherd.

Allegro: A Rustic Dance opens with bagpipes (string drones) common to country life.

L’estate/ The Summer:
Allegro non molto: The orchestra falters, beaten down by the relentless, blazing summer sun, scales drooping downward with hardly enough energy to move. The solo violin’s evocative bird calls lead to a tutti passage suggesting buffeting winds and stormy skies. The soloist’s weeping gestures mimic the shepherd’s fear of the approaching weather; the arrival of the violent storm drives the movement to its conclusion.

Adagio e piano—Presto e forte: the shepherd’s plight of unpredictable skies and biting insects (stubborn, steely gestures achieved by bowing close to the bridge).

Presto: the storm arrives in full force. The music shudders before the heavens fully open up, as the violins’ crisscross patterns capture the lightning that splits the air before hail rains down in rushing scales.

L’autunno/ The Autumn:
Allegro: The spirited string writing evokes the “Dancing and Singing of the Peasants,” followed by increasingly impressive violin passagework suggesting “The Drunkard” and yielding to a sleepy Larghetto.

Adagio: “The singing and dancing die away… and the drunkards enjoy a gentle sleep,” as captured by the seemingly aimless harpsichord arpeggios and the hushed, sustained string accompaniment.

Allegro: The hunt is on! In lieu of horns, Vivaldi replicates the sound of hunting calls with violins. The prey inevitably succumbs, and the concerto closes with the final strains of the hunt.

L’inverno/ The Winter:
Allegro non molto: Individual pitches suggest a frozen landscape and quick icy trills the chattering of teeth. The soloist enters with rapid arpeggios and scales, implying biting winds. Vivaldi only then delivers his ritornello idea, the brittle theme brilliantly portraying running and stamping of icy feet.

Largo: pizzicato strings suggest the cold, icy drip of winter.

Allegro: opens cautiously, the fear of falling evident with every step. Waves of violin scales depict treacherous slipping, ice breaking apart and winter’s bitter winds. Following a brief, relaxed orchestral interlude (“Winter nevertheless has its delights”), the soloist unleashes a frigid whirlwind—“Sirocco and Borea”—driving this numbing concerto to its furious final bars.

© Marc Moskovitz