Some of you have probably read Vivaldi and have thought: classical music, whoosh, it’s time to fall asleep, classical music is for older people, for boring people, I’m going to read another article. And hey, all opinions are respectable, but if you’ve made it this far, we hope that reading this post you discover that classical music can be just as exciting as rock, pop or (almost) any other type of music. One of the most famous classical music composers and best representatives of the genre is Antonio Vivaldi, regardless of whether or not you like classical music, surely you have heard The Four Seasons at some point, or at least one of the four. Sometimes classical music appears in places where we would least expect to hear it…
What’s more, we listen to classical music practically every day, in many songs that we dance to in clubs (if possible) or in our favorite playlists and maybe we haven’t noticed. For example, in Bad Romance, Lady Gaga uses Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 24 in B minor; Mika’s Grace Kelly was based on the Largo Al Factotum of the Barber of Seville; the famous A Song of Joy (Himno de la alegría) that Miguel Ríos sang uses Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and something that happens a lot in rock, like the Spanish band Mägo de Oz in El Santo Grial using Mozart’s Turkish March for its instrumental part or Jethro Tull in Bourée covering Bach’s Boureé in E minor. And we do not continue because the list could be endless.
If we pay attention to what we listen to, we will be surprised to hear parts of classical music that are adapted to the modern song or directly original “samples” of these pieces. They may not sound familiar to us at first, but if you are new to Vivaldi, we hope that, starting today, you feel like investigating and finding out which composer has served as inspiration for this song or the other.
Biography of Antonio Vivaldi and summary of his work
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice in the 17th century, in the midst of the Baroque period, a period characterized by economic depression, plagues, the Thirty Years War and the counter-reformation doctrine. But also a time of great scientists like Galileo, Newton, philosophers like Descartes and great development of the arts with sculptors like Bernini, painters like Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi, Poussin, Maíno, Murillo, Rubens or Rembrandt and writers like Góngora, Quevedo or Molière.
Musically, the baroque was divided into three periods, with Antonio Vivaldi being the protagonist in the late period, characterized by the fusion of harmony with polyphony and the fugal style. In short, technical terms: it was the era of operas, of the greatest splendor of Bach and Handel, apart from the protagonist of this article.
Antonio Vivaldi learned to play the violin from a very young age thanks to his father Giovanni Battista, who was a very important musician. At the age of 13 he had already composed his first liturgical work. What a child prodigy. Furthermore, at the age of 15 he began to study to become a priest, although he always felt more inclined towards music. Due to his asthma, he was “freed” from giving masses, although that also prevented him from devoting himself to wind instruments.
At the age of 25 he became a violin teacher in an orphanage, where he worked for 30 years in which he composed most of his works. Vivaldi wrote concertos, cantatas and sacred music for those kids who learned music from a genius and in turn became musicians or choir singers. In those days, as you can imagine, they didn’t publish albums but collections. Antonio Vivaldi published the first collection of sonatas by him in 1705 and it was in 1711 that his collection of concertos for violins and string instruments was a success.
With the beginning of the new century, Vivaldi became an “influencer” in the world of opera, although his beginnings were a bit complicated. Despite his upbringing, one of his operas, Arsilda, Regina di Ponto, dealt with the love affair of the protagonist Arsilda, with another woman, Lisea, who disguised herself as a man. The censor almost had a heart attack…
Between 1717 and 1718, Vivaldi moved to Mantua for a new job and there he met Anna Tessieri Girò, with whom he established a professional relationship, although gossip, which has existed since the world began, speculated about nature true of that relationship. It is at this time that he composed The Four Seasons, four violin concertos dedicated to each season of the year. This is his most famous work since it was a musical revolution.
Vivaldi received commissions from the nobility and royalty, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, who was a total fan, knighted him. However, in his last years, Antonio (there is already a certain closeness) experienced financial difficulties and decided to go to Vienna, because his protector Charles VI lived there and could offer him a position at court. It did not last long since Charles VI died, Vivaldi was left without a protector, poor and would end up dying shortly after at the age of 63. Another case of how unfair fame can be: today you are at the top and tomorrow nobody remembers you…
The Four Seasons by Vivaldi
But we will always remember him for The Four Seasons, his best work, innovative, timeless, revolutionary in his time and that without him knowing it has been an inspiration for many musicians before and now. This is the case of the musician Max Richter, who in 2012 released an album reworking The Four Seasons. A tribute that Vivaldi would surely have been moved to hear, given the existing innovations in the 21st century.
But why is Vivaldi’s work so important? Because he knew, among other things, how to represent nature through musical instruments: streams, birds, dogs, mosquitoes, storms, children, etc. In addition, the concerts were accompanied by sonnets, whose authorship is associated with Vivaldi himself, which describe what happens in each season. This is what would later be called program music, that is, music that makes us evoke ideas, feelings. As you can imagine, this was innovative at the time.
Spring has parts of a symphony from another Vivaldi opera, Il Giustino. The other three concertos are original. Each concerto is divided into three movements, fast – slow – fast, and each sonnet is also divided into three parts. The first and third movements are in allegro or presto time and the second in adagio or long and the set of instruments is solo violin, string quartet (first and second violin, viola, cello, double bass) and basso continuo (harpsichord or organ).
With an allegro, largo, allegro structure, Spring evokes those days of pleasant weather, of little birds that begin to sing after the silence of winter, some isolated storm, the rustling of the leaves of the trees, the children who come out to enjoy themselves. In general, it is a happy concert, the prelude to summer, those days when it gets dark later and being on the street is a pleasure.
On the other hand, Summer, with an allegro, adagio, presto structure, conveys the joy of sunny days, of vacations, the feeling of those hot days when you don’t feel like doing nothing, that even the animals are exhausted. Suddenly one day a storm falls so strong that it makes us even scared (especially if it catches us on the street with sandals). Summer is an accumulation of emotions and experiences that we will later remember fondly.
Quite likely, summer is also the season most used in audiovisual accompaniments lately, especially for movies and advertising.
As for Autumn, organized in allegro, adagio, allegro, it takes away that suffocating heat and leaves us with a wonderful coolness to do things like the grape harvest, go for a walk, enjoy nature, the forests, but also a certain nostalgia for those summer days that have slipped through our hands and it always seems to us that they have been unfairly short.
To finish, Winter, divided into allegro, largo, allegro, leaves us frozen, paralyzes us, is a bit gloomy, one just wants to be glued to a stove while looking out the window at the downpour, the typical days of blankets, movies and popcorn (the 18th century version would be a bonfire, jacket and Vivaldi concerts), but there are also days when we can go ice skating, play with the snow, enjoy the cold.
(Madrid, 1988). Azahara P. Navas has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the Complutense University of Madrid and currently works as a language translator with knowledge of English, French, German and Greek.