Why should you listen to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"? - Betsy Schwarm
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Here’s a YouTube video of all of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, played in concert by the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen with an orchestra called the Amsterdam Sinfonietta. The entire video is about forty minutes long, as each of the concertos is roughly nine minutes long, and all four are performed. However, Spring comes up first, so let’s begin with that; you can go on to the others if you have time. Watch the performance with attention, noticing things such as intensity, body language, eye contact between performers, and so on. How does watching – rather than just listening – bring out more about what’s happening in the music?
Additionally, notice the small keyboard instrument in the middle of the ensemble. It’s a “harpsichord,” which is a predecessor of the piano. Although their keys are laid out in the same way, harpsichords sound different from pianos due to having a different mechanism. The strings inside the instrument are plucked, rather than being punched, which gives the instrument a rather light sound that can be hard to hear in louder music. By watching the Jansen video again, you can likely pick out the sound of the harpsichord, at least occasionally; he doesn’t play every single moment, but it’s there. This was a very popular feature in most music of Vivaldi’s time in history, which in music is called the Baroque Era.
Here’s a YouTube video of a composition by one of Vivaldi’s contemporaries. Take some time to listen and compare. It’s the Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach, and it has some commonalities with Vivaldi’s Spring. Both have three movements – a fast one, then a slow one, then a fast one – and both begin with a “ritornello” form. However, the instruments are not all the same, and the Bach piece isn’t “program music”, so there’s no story to be told. Also, the two composers had different reputations in their time; one was a major pop star, the other a composer with a more intellectual reputation. Can you theorize as to which was which and why? What do you see and hear that’s different from one piece to the other? You might especially compare the third (last) movements of the two concertos, as the differences are most noticeable there.
The version of The Four Seasons played throughout this video comes from the European Archive, which you download here.
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