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The Four Seasons (Vivaldi)

The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni in original Italian) 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 of Baroque music.

The premiere recording was I Musici's 1955 recording (it was that ensemble's first recording of any music). It created such interest in the work that there are now more than 120 recordings of it.

The concertos were first published in 1725 as part of a set of twelve, Vivaldi's Op. 8, entitled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest between Harmony and Invention). The first four concertos were designated Le quattro stagioni, each being named after a season. Each one is in three movements, with a slow movement between two faster ones. 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. In modern times, others have made transcriptions and arrangements to be performed on different instrumentation.

The texture of each concerto is varied, resembling its respective season. For example, "Winter" is peppered with silvery staccato notes from the high strings, calling to mind icy rain, whereas "Summer" evokes a thunderstorm in its final movement.

The four concertos were written to go along with four sonnets. Though it is not known who wrote these sonnets there is a theory that Vivaldi wrote them himself. The sonnets are as follows in the original Italian with an English translation:

Italian English
La Primavera Spring
Allegro
Giunt' è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de' Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
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:

Largo
E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme 'l Caprar col fido can' à lato.

Allegro
Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all' apparir brillante.

Allegro
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Largo
On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

L'Estate Summer
Allegro non molto - Allegro
Sotto dura Staggion dal Sole accesa
Langue l' huom, langue 'l gregge, ed arde il Pino;
Scioglie il Cucco la Voce, e tosto intesa
Canta la Tortorella e 'l gardelino.
Zeffiro dolce Spira, mà contesa
Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino;
E piange il Pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e 'l suo destino;

Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
Toglie alle membra lasse il Suo riposo
Il timore de' Lampi, e tuoni fieri
E de mosche, e mossoni il Stuol furioso!

Presto
Ah che pur troppo i Suo timor Son veri
Tuona e fulmina il Ciel e grandioso
Tronca il capo alle Spiche e a' grani alteri.

Allegro non molto
Under a hard Season, fired up by the Sun
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine
We hear the cuckoo's voice; then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air... but threatening north wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles, fearing violent storms and his fate.

Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
The fear of lightning and fierce thunder
Robs his tired limbs of rest
As gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Presto
Alas, his fears were justified
The Heavens thunders and roar and majestically
Cuts the head off the wheat and damages the grain.

L'Autunno Autumn
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

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.

Allegro
I cacciator alla nov' alba à caccia
Con corni, Schioppi, e canni escono fuore
Fugge la belua, e Seguono la traccia;
Già Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De' Schioppi e canni, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.

Allegro
Celebrates the peasant, with songs and dances,
The pleasure of a bountiful harvest.
And fired up by Bacchus' liquor, many end their revelry in sleep.

Adagio molto
Everyone is made to forget their cares and to sing and dance
By the air which is tempered with pleasure
And (by) the season that invites so many, many
Out of their sweetest slumber to fine enjoyment

Allegro
The hunters emerge at the new dawn,
And with horns and dogs and guns depart upon their hunting
The beast flees and they follow its trail;
Terrified and tired of the great noise
Of guns and dogs, the beast, wounded, threatens
Languidly to flee, but harried, dies.

L'Inverno Winter
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;

Largo
Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento

Allegro
Caminar Sopra il giaccio, e à passo lento
Per timor di cader gersene intenti;
Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader à terra
Di nuove ir Sopra 'l giaccio e correr forte
Sin ch' il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;
Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
Sirocco Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra
Quest' é 'l verno, mà tal, che gioia apporte.

Allegro non molto
To tremble from cold in the icy snow,
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one's feet every moment,
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold

Largo
Before the fire to pass peaceful,
Contented days while the rain outside pours down.

Allegro
We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds course through the home despite the locked and bolted doors...
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.

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 are, therefore, tone poems. Together they are an enduring example of program music. It is often referenced in popular culture.

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