The Granada Theatre
1214 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, USA
Zipper Concert Hall
200 S Grand Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012
St. Monica Catholic Church
725 California Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403, USA
Antonio Vivaldi wrote more than 500 concertos in his lifetime. Some featured a solo instrument with an orchestra (the violin was most often the solo instrument), while some concertos, like the first two this evening were “doubles,” with two solo instruments. Some featured groups of soloists with an orchestra, a genre known as the concerto grosso. In 1711, Vivaldi published an incredibly influential collection of concertos called L’estro armonico, of which the A-minor Concerto for Two Violins was part. It was more than a decade later that Vivaldi began writing his most famous works, a set of four concertos called Le quattro stagioni, better known as The Four Seasons. Vivaldi’s works were a great source of inspiration for later composers like J.S. Bach, who copied out many of Vivaldi’s works for study or arrangement. For example, Bach adapted the A-minor Concerto for Two Violins as an organ work.
Through his extensive work in the genre, Vivaldi standardized some of the characteristics we associate with the concerto. For instance, he regularly composed his concertos with quick outer movements and a slower central movement, a structure that was the norm for the whole of the Baroque period. He used ritornello form in the fast movements of his concertos, a form that allowed for give and take between soloist and orchestra. Vivaldi’s RV 517 and RV 522 are fine examples of double concertos. The two works have a few things in common: they are both in minor keys and both follow the traditional three-movement structure. In each, the two solo violins spend much of the time in the quick movements trading musical material or playing in harmony with one another. These are two of Vivaldi’s most recognizable concertos—their melodies are beautifully crafted and evoke a sense of both drive and drama. The central movements of each provide contrast, with slower tempos and more pensive moods.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, known in Italian as Le quattro stagioni, were published in 1725 as part of a set of twelve concertos. It was Vivaldi’s eighth opus, and he called it Il cimento dell’armonica e dell’inventione, or The Contest of Harmony and Invention. The Concertos were inspired not just by the seasons themselves, but by a set of four sonnets written about spring, summer, autumn and winter. The authorship of these sonnets is questionable, but most historians believe that it was Vivaldi himself. This makes sense because each sonnet is broken down into three sections, each section corresponding to a movement in the Concerto. The Four Seasons can therefore be classified as “programmatic,” music that intends to evoke something extra-musical. Originally written for solo violin, tonight’s performance features Avi Avital’s virtuosic arrangement for solo mandolin.
All of the Concertos demonstrate virtuosic musical displays by all players, but especially by the soloist. “La primavera,” or Spring, begins with the crispness and clarity of a cloudless spring day, and features singing birds and murmuring streams. A sudden quick thunderstorm invades, but birdsong soon regains control. The second movement illustrates a peaceful day, the quiet disturbed only by a barking dog. The final movement is a lively dance for countryfolk who seem to be celebrating the return of life after a long winter.
The first movement of Summer, “L’estate,” begins slowly, almost as if it’s too hot to move. The birds sing lazily, and the air is mostly still, until a breeze whips up, a warning of a gathering storm. The most striking moment of this Concerto is the hailstorm that rains down in the third movement, a perfect contrast to the tranquility of the opening.
Autumn, “L’autunno,” seems to return to the clarity we heard in Spring. The musical themes in both first movements are similar. Once again, the countryfolk are celebrating, but this time they are rejoicing in their successful harvest. Wine is part of this merriment, and the slowing of the tempo and the quieting of the dynamics seems to reflect the peaceful sleep that overtakes some of the party-goers. The last part of the Concerto illustrates a hunt with horn calls. A chase ensues, harkening back to the fourteenth century tradition of the Italian genre called the “Caccia,” songs that glorified the hunt through vocal canons (literally one voice chasing another).
Finally, there is winter, “L’inverno.” The opening sounds like a shivering person rhythmically stamping his feet to stay warm. The soloist provides the icy winds, and the ensemble responds with chattering teeth. The middle movement describes the peaceful pleasure of warming up inside by a crackling fire. In the final movement, those outdoors walk carefully on the icy paths, while those inside feel winter’s chill relentlessly finding its way into the house. But still, Vivaldi reminds us, winter—like all the other seasons—has its specific charms and moments of contentment.
This series is generously sponsored by Carol & Warner Henry, a Friend of LACO and the Ronus Foundation.
Our thanks to the many patrons who contributed to the Carol & Warner Henry Challenge.
The presence of extraordinary violinists with Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is made possible in part by Jerry and Terri Kohl.