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Antonio Vivaldi and his concerti, "The Four Seasons"
- The Venetian School of the Italian Renaissance
Along with Florence and Rome, Venice also became an important center of the Renaissance taking place in Italy.
The Baroque Period
One of my favorite classical music composers is Antonio Vivaldi and particularly his concerti, The Four Seasons, which he composed in 1723. Today, Vivaldi ranks among the most popular and widely recorded Baroque composers. He was most famous for being a composer, but he was regarded as an exceptional technical violinist as well
Vivaldi was an Italian Baroque composer (from the late Baroque Period), priest and virtuoso violnist born in Venice, Italy. His nickname was "The Red Priest" because of his flaming red hair. His musical influence was widespread over Europe and he is recognized as one of the greatest of the Baroque composers. He is known for composing instrumental concertos especially for violin and he composed sacred choral works as well as forty operas. The Four Seasons is his best known work and is a series of violin concertos.
The Baroque Period of music was a style of Western music from approximately 1600-1750 on the European continent. It covers a broad range of styles from a wide geographical region and composed over a period of approximately one hundred fifty years. The term is widely used and accepted for this broad range of music.
The Baroque Period (it is also used to describe art and architecture) followed the Renaissance Period and was followed itself by the Classical Era in music. The word baroque comes from Portuguese and literally means, "misshapen pearl." The term baroque, at first, was meant as a derogatory term about the over the top music, art, and architecture that was being created during these years. It describes an ornate and heavily ornamental music of the period. And it forms a major portion of the classical music canon that is widely studied, performed, and listened to.
The composers of the Baroque Era were:
- Johan Sebastian Bach
- George Frideric Handel
- Alessandro Scarlotti
- Antonio Vivaldi
- Georg Philipp Telemann
- Jean-Baptiste Lully
- Arcangelo Corelli
- Francois Couperin
- Denis Gaultier
- Claudio Monteverdi
- Jean-Philippe Rameau
- Henry Purcell
Baroque music was a creation of functionl tonality. It had a heirarchial pitch relationship based on a key "center" or tonic. The composers and performers of the Baroque Period used more elaborate musical ornamentation and made changes in musical notation and developed new instrumental playing techniques. Baroque music expanded the size, range and complexity of instrumental performance. It also established opera as a musical genre and many of the musical terms andr concepts from this era of music are still used today.
Late Baroque Style (1650 - 1750)
Italy, the forerunner of the European Renaissance, was the first European country to move to the late Baroque Style. This style of music was full absorption of tonality as a structuring principle of music. The Renaissance Style had been of polyphony and was made the basis for the study of counterpoint. The Baroque Style differed in that it was a combination of modal counterpoint with tonal logic of cadences and created the sense that there were two distinct style of composition:
- Homophonic -- dominated by verticle considerations
- Polyphonic -- dominated by imitation and contrapuntal consideration
These forms were given wider range of diversity:
- concerto grasso
All of the above musical forms saw the growth of the diffferent national styles and structures. The overall form of the pieces was generally simple with repeated binary forms (AABB), simple three part forms (ABC) and rondeau forms being very common.
Antonio Vivaldi 1678 - 1741
Vivaldi was born in Venice, Italy in 1678, which was a good place to be born in those days, because it was the heartbeat of the music world in Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque eras. He began his adult life as an ordained priest and by 1703, he had ceased to say mass.
Sometime during this same year he was appointed as maestro di violino at a Venetian girls orphanage, with which he had a professional relationship with for most of his life. And, most of his compositions were written for the female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pieta, the name of the girls home. He wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred vocal music for them. This job required a lot of his time and work and he was required to compose an oratorio or concerto for every important feast and teach the orphans both music theory and how to play certain instruments.
Around 1717 or 1718 he was offered the prestigious position as maestro di cappela of the court of Prince Philip of Hesse-Darmstadt, the governor of Mantua. He also produced several operas in the three years he was here. It was during his time in Mantua that he wrote The Four Seasons, which are four violin concertos depicting scenes appropriate for each season fo the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter. It is believed his inspiration was the countryside around Mantua.
This piece was a revolution in musical conception. In his concertos, Vivaldi respresents and brings alive musically the flowing creeks, singing birds, barking dogs, buzzing mosquitoes, crying shepherds, storms, drunken dancers, silent nights, hunting parties from both the hunters and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, ice-skating children, and warming winter fires. Each concerto is associated with a sonnet, believed to also be written by Vivaldi, describing the scenes depicted in the music.
The Four Seasons was published in Amsterdam in 1725, and circulated widely around Europe. He composed the piece in 1723 as part of a set of twelve concerts. The first four concertos were designed with each being named after a season, the whole entitled, La quattro stagions.
Each season is in three movements with a slow movement between the two faster ones. At the time The Four Seasons was written, the modern solo form of the concerto had not been defined. (solo instrument and accompanying orchestra) Vivaldi's original arrangement was for a solo violion with string quartet and basso continuo, and therefore, he helped ultimately to define the form.
The four sonnets, believed to have been written by Vivaldi, were written to accompany the four concertos. Each sonnet was broken down into three sections, neatly corresponding to a movement in the concerto.
Vivaldi's most important contributions to Baroque music were the patterns he settled on. Certain patterns such as a fast - slow - fast, the three-movement plan for his works, was one of his greatest contribution to music as a composer. Vivaldi wrote 550 concerti alone and used programmatic titles of his works including The Four Seasons. Vivaldi was also the first music composer of high standing who through his career showed the possibility for a composer to be able to support himself by his publications, tour to promote his own works, and have an independent existence. Rock musicians and groups around the world owe him thanks.
Vivaldi was eventually forgotten in concert making for much of the 19th century only to be revived in the 20th century. His works are very popular today and I hear the melodic, The Four Seasons many times when I'm listening to NPR.