Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Vivaldi's Four Seasons concerto is unmistakably Antonio Vivaldi's most famous work. Outside of the concert hall, you've heard movements of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in movies like Tin Cup, Spy Game, A View to Kill, What Lies Beneath, White Chicks, Saved!, Pacific Heights, and The Other Sister just to name a few. You've heard it in television commercials like this HP Touch Smart PC (watch on YouTube). You've heard it performed in wedding ceremonies. If you stop and listen, chances are it's playing on the silver screen, within a television show, or in an advertisement somewhere nearby.

Notes and Historical Information

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), 1725. Artist: Morellon de la Cave, François (ca 1700-1755)
Heritage Images/Getty Images / Getty Images

Inspired by landscape paintings by Italian artist, Marco Ricci, Vivaldi composed the Four Seasons roughly between 1720 and 1723, and published them in Amsterdam in 1725, in a set of twelve concerti entitled Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Test of Harmony and Invention). The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) consists of four concerti (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter), each one in a distinct form containing three movements with tempos in the following order: fast-slow-fast.

Since its publication, musicologists consider Vivaldi's Four Seasons to be among the boldest program music ever written during the baroque period. When composers write a musical narrative set to a line of text, a poem, or any other form of writing (which is typically published within the concert's program notes), that is said to be program music. Program music wasn't a technique that was typically employed during the baroque period (in fact, the term "program music" wasn't invented until the romantic period), so Vivaldi's work is quite unique. It is believed that Antonio Vivaldi himself wrote the twelve individual sonnets to go along with each movement of the Four Seasons. In the following pages, I'll provide you with YouTube links to each concerto and the text of its corresponding sonnet.As you listen to each one, you'll be amazed at how accurately Vivaldi musically portrays each sonnet without losing the overall quality and balance of the work.

Facts and Trivia

  • Vivaldi's Four Seasons especially appealed to the French. King Louis XV took a liking to 'Spring' and ordered it to be performed whenever he pleased.
  • It is not uncommon for the conductor or director to read the sonnet aloud to the audience before performing the concerto's movement.
  • According to IMDb, there have been at least 100 different films and television shows that have used Vivaldi's Four Seasons in some way.
  • With instructions from Vivaldi in the music's score to play "like a barking dog" or "like a sleeping goatherd," performers have to use their imagination to achieve the sound Vivaldi had in mind.

Spring - Sonnet Text

Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Spring
Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Spring. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

1st Movement: Allegro

(Listen on YouTube)
Spring has come and joyfully the birds greet it with happy song, and the brooks, while the streams flow along with gentle murmur as the zephyrs blow. There come, shrouding the air with a black cloak, lighting, and thunder chosen to herald [the storm]; then, when these are silent, the little birds return to their melodious incantations.

2nd Movement: Largo

(Listen on YouTube)
And now, in the pleasant, flowery meadow, to the soft murmur of leaves and plants, the goatherd sleeps with his faithful dog at his side.

3rd Movement: Allegro Pastorale

(Listen on YouTube)
To the festive sound of a pastoral bagpipe, nymphs and shepherds dance under their beloved roof, greeting the glittering arrival of the spring.

Summer - Sonnet Text

Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Summer
Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Summer. Photo by Alan Majchrowicz/Getty Images

1st Movement: Allegro nonmolto

(Listen on YouTube)
In the harsh season scorched by the sun, man and flock languish, and the pine is on fire; the cuckoo begins to call and soon after, the turtledove and the goldfinch are heard singing. Zephyr [the west wind] gently blows, but Boreas [the north wind] suddenly enters into a contest with its neighbor, and the little shepherd weeps for he hears the awesome threatening storm and his fate.

2nd Movement: Adagio

(Listen on YouTube)
To his tired limbs rest is denied by the fear of lightning, awesome thunder, and the furious swarm of flies and hornets!

Movement 3: Presto

(Listen on YouTube)
Alas, his fears are justified. The sky is filled with thunder and lightning and hail cuts down the proud grain.

Autumn - Sonnet Text

Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Autumn
Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Autumn. Photo by Evgeni Dinev Photography/Getty Images

1st Movement: Allegro

(Listen on YouTube)
The peasant celebrates the pleasure of the happy harvest with dances and songs; and inflamed by the liquor of Bacchus, many end their rejoicing with sleep.

2nd Movement: Adagio molto

(Listen on YouTube)
The mild pleasant air makes all abandon dance and song; this is the season that invites all to the sweet delights of peaceful sleep.

3rd Movement: Allegro 

(Listen on YouTube)
The hunters, at the break of dawn, set forth with horns, guns, and hounds. The animal flees, and they follow its tracks. Already frightened and tired by the great noise of guns and hounds, the wounded animal makes a weak attempt at fleeing but is overcome and dies.

Winter - Sonnet Text

Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Winter
Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Winter. Photo by Aliyev Alexei Sergeevich/Getty Images

1st Movement: Allegro non molto

(Listen on YouTube)
Trembling with cold amidst the freezing snow, while a frightful wind harshly blows, running and stamping one's feet every minute, and feeling one's teeth chatter from the extreme cold;

2nd Movement: Largo

(Listen on YouTube)
Spending quiet contented days by the fire while the rain outside drenches people by the hundreds;

3rd Movement: Allegro

(Listen on YouTube)
Walking on ice, and moving cautiously, with slow steps, for fear of falling, spinning around, slipping, falling down, again walking on ice and running fast until the ice cracks and splits; hearing Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds at war burst forth from the bolted doors - this is winter, but it also brings joy!