MasterWorks 3 Program Notes

Le quattro stagioni, Op. 8
Antonio Vivaldi
Born March 4, 1678 in Venice
Died July 28, 1741 in Vienna
Instrumentation: Strings and continuo
Performance time: 37 minutes
Last performed by the TSO November 1990

Antonip Vivaldi is well-known today primarily as a composer, particularly of concerti, but he spent most of his career as musical director and violin teacher at a Venetian conservatory and orphanage for girls, the Seminario Musicale dell’Ospedale della Pietà.  Many of Vivaldi’s compositions were written for the orphans to perform, and he must have had many a musical prodigy among them.

Vivaldi is in many ways the father of the concerto, particularly what is thought of today as the standard construction of movements: fast-slow-fast. Each of the Seasons follows this format.  Of the more than 500 concerti that Vivaldi wrote, about 230 of them are for solo violin, with the rest being for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, viola d'amore, recorder, lute, or mandolin.  About 70 are for more than one instrument plus accompaniment.  Surprisingly, after the violin, Vivaldi wrote the most concerti for the bassoon – 37 concerti in all.

The Four Seasons are probably his best known compositions today. They are the first four of a twelve concerto group called Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Invenzione (“The Contest between Harmony and Invention”).  Vivaldi’s idea was to show the contrast between the rational and technical expectations of composition and the imagination involved.

Each of the Four Seasons was published with a sonnet, possibly written by Vivaldi, at the start of the composition, and excerpts also appeared within the score to illustrate what was happening at various points.

Rebecca Cain

Spring has come and with it gaiety
The birds salute it with joyous song.
And the brooks, caressed by Zephyr’s breath,
Flow meanwhile with sweet murmurings.

The sky is covered with dark clouds,
Announced by lightning and thunder.
But when they are silenced, the little birds
Return to fill the air with their song.
Then does the meadow, in full flower,
Ripple with its leafy plants.
The goat-herd dozes, guarded by his faithful dog.

Rejoicing in the pastoral bagpipes,
Nymphs and Shepherds dance, in love,
Their faces glowing with Springtime’s brilliance.

Under the heavy season of a burning sun,
Man languishes, his herd wilts, the pine is parched
The cuckoo finds its voice, and chiming in with it
The turtle-dove, the goldfinch.
Zephyr breathes gently but, contested,
The North-wind appears nearby and suddenly:
The shepherd sobs because, uncertain,
He fears the wild squall and its effects:
His weary limbs have no repose, goaded by
His fear of lightning and wild thunder
While gnats and flies in furious swarms surround him.

Alas, his fears prove all too grounded,
Thunder and lightning split the Heavens, and hail-stones
Slice the top of the corn and other grain. 

The country-folk celebrate, with dance and song,
The joy of gathering a bountiful harvest.
With Bacchus’ liquor, quaffed liberally,
Their joy finishes in slumber.
Each one renounces dance and song
The mild air is pleasant
And the season invites every increasingly
To savor a sweet slumber.
The hunters at dawn go to the hunt,
With horns and guns and dogs they sally forth,
The beasts flee, their trail is followed.

Already dismayed and exhausted, from the great noise
Of guns and dogs, threatened with wounds,
They flee, languishing, and die, cowering.

Frozen and trembling amid the chilly snow
Our breathing hampered by horrid winds
As we run, we stamp our feet continuously,
Our teeth chatter with the frightful cold.
We move to the fire and contented peace
While the rain outside pours in sheets.
Now we walk on the ice, with slow steps
Attentive how we walk, for fear of falling.
If we move quickly, we slip and fall to earth,
Again walking heavily on the ice,
Until the ice breaks and dissolves;
We hear from the closed doors
Boreas and all the winds at war,
This is winter, but such as brings joy.

Four Seasons of Buenos Aires 
Astor Piazzolla 
Born March 11, 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina
Died July 4, 1992 in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Instrumentation: Strings
Performance time: 25 minutes
First performance by the TSO

Astor Piazzolla was born in Argentina, and his family moved to New York when he was just five years old.  His father bought him a bandoneon, the South American version of the accordion, with buttons instead of keys.  Upon his return to Argentina, at age fifteen, Piazzolla began playing with various tango orchestras.  At the suggestion of Arthur Rubenstein, who lived in Argentina at the time, he began studying composition with Alberto Ginastera.  This led him to win a composition contest that would allow him to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.  Their meeting changed Piazzolla’s life, and led to the transformation of the tango.

“When I met her, I showed her my kilos of symphonies and sonatas. She started to read them and suddenly came out with a horrible sentence: ‘It's very well written.’ And stopped, with a big period, round like a soccer ball. After a long while, she said: ‘Here you are like Stravinsky, like Bartók, like Ravel, but you know what happens? I can't find Piazzolla in this.’ She kept asking: ‘You say that you are not pianist. What instrument do you play, then?’ And I didn't want to tell her that I was a bandoneon player, because I thought, ‘Then she will throw me from the fourth floor.’ Finally, I confessed and she asked me to play some bars of a tango of my own. She suddenly opened her eyes, took my hand and told me: ‘You idiot, that's Piazzolla!’ And I took all the music I composed, ten years of my life, and sent it to hell in two seconds.” 

Astor Piazzolla took the folk tango, and by combining it with elements of jazz and classical music, transformed it into the more sophisticated “Nuevo tango.”  The Four Seasons of Buenos Aries was originally composed for folk ensemble, was later arranged for a mixed chamber group, and finally is here for string orchestra with violin soloist, in homage to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Rebecca Cain