Musical Musings: As the seasons turn ...

Summer leaks into autumn.
Autumn leafs into winter.
Winter leans into spring.
Spring leaps into summer.
~Terri Guillemets

Summer is "officially" over. As the days grow shorter and the landscape transforms into a multihued palette of greens, yellows, reds, and deep purples, a familiar change creeps into the landscape of our minds. Wistful glances up to the sky seem to want the clouds and the sun to stay along just a wee bit longer. Like children who, reluctantly, have to soon return home in time for dinner after a hard day's play, we search for excuses to linger for a few more moments in the warmth of another Summer gone, flushing deeply at the thought of the crisp cold air and gentle hands cupped around a mug of warm cider, a warm fire burning bright into the starry nights.

It is also the time of the year that brings to mind Antonio Vivaldi's most famous cycle of violin concertos - "Four Seasons." These are the compositions that are most associated with him. The concertos are unique, not only for their ability to paint an accurate portrayal of the subject through the music, but also for their presentation. In what was a groundbreaking step for its time, Vivaldi published the music along with four sonnets to accompany the performances. The poems reflect the moods and scenarios that Vivaldi visualized with his music, and are (I believe) one of the primary reasons for the popularity of the pieces. They not only provided the listener with a glimpse into the creative process of the gifted composer, but also made the process of understanding classical music instantly accessible to a larger audience. As this list aptly shows, the concertos have also proven a fertile breeding ground for inspiration for numerous artistes in the years that have followed.

Much could be, and has been already, said about the concertos, but nothing conveys Vivaldi's intentions as clearly and succinctly as the concertos and the accompanying sonnets themselves. So here they are, the four seasons, and the sonnets, for your listening pleasure!


Spring – Concerto in E Major 

Springtime is upon us. 
The birds celebrate her return with festive song, and
 murmuring streams are softly caressed by the
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. 

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

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

Summer – Concerto in g-minor

Allegro non molto
Beneath the blazing sun's relentless heat 
men and flocks are sweltering, 
pines are scorched.
We hear the cuckoo's voice; then sweet songs of the
turtle dove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air….but threatening north wind
sweeps them suddenly aside. The shepherd trembles,
fearful of violent storm and what may lie ahead.

Adagio e piano - Presto e forte
His limbs are now awakened from their repose by
fear of lightning's flash and thunder's roar, as gnats
and flies buzz furiously around.

Alas, his worst fears were justified, as the heavens
roar and great hailstones beat down upon the proudly
standing corn.

Autumn – Concerto in F Major

The peasant celebrates with song and dance the harvest safely gathered in.
The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slumber.

Adagio molto
The singing and the dancing die away
as cooling breezes fan the pleasant air,
inviting all to sleep
without a care.

The hunters emerge at dawn,
ready for the chase,
with horns and dogs and cries.
Their quarry flees while they give chase.
Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on,
but, harried, dies.

Winter – Concerto in f-minor

Allegro non molto
Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting,
stinging winds;
running to and fro to stamp one's icy feet, teeth
chattering in the bitter chill.

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those
outside are drenched by pouring rain.

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 coarse through the
home despite the locked and bolted doors…
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.