Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are amongst his most innovative and extraordinary compositions. Today’s public knows the work but the “Red Priest’s” contemporaries were immediately captivated by it as well. The originality of these Concertos is that much more surprising because they dutifully follow the usual pattern: division into three movements of Fast – Slow – Fast with alternating “tuttis” and “solos” as Giuseppe Torelli used.
The Four Seasons in its entirety corresponds with the first four of the twelve Concertos Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione op. VIII (Amsterdam, Le Cene, 1725). Here l’inventione that incites and is one with l’armonia, meaning that the Four Seasons were composed according to the rules, heads the four indicative sonnets, one for each season and printed at the beginning of each respective concerto. The unusual creativity lies in the correspondence between poetry and music or rather in the translation into sound of the natural images evoked in the programmed Sonnets.
Being an impresario and productive playwright, it was natural for Vivaldi to combine these skills. The Sonnets are anonymous - although we won’t exclude the possibility that Vivaldi wrote or adapted them himself – and have capital letters (A, B, C, …) inserted on the left of the text near the corresponding verse in various points of the score. For the benefit of performers less inclined to poetry, he often adds a programmatic title or instructions about interpreting the text that the music is describing. For instance, immediately in the first movement of Spring, “birdsong” or, at the top of Largo, in integrating the triplet, subtitles like “the sleeping goatherd” corresponds with the violin soloist’s lullaby.