Vivaldi Unleashed

by cherliu

Something I noticed while studying for the midterm was that, in my mind, I tried to characterize each composer by similarities in their works. I would think: Oh, that’s Handel because you can hear the dramatic and grand contrasts; that’s Vivaldi because it’s so refined and courtly; that’s Bach’s a flowing cello suite. But what I somewhat neglected was the fact that all of these composers have composed some dramatically different compositions than just the ones we have listened to in class.

In class we listened to Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico, Op.3, No.6 in A Minor. As a long time violinist, hearing this piece in class immediately brought back memories, as this piece is a very standard part of any violin student repertoire. However, I want to highlight Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, four violin concertos and arguably Vivaldi’s most well known work, as a great Vivaldi composition many have probably heard, but that we didn’t have the chance to go over in class.

In class we discussed how, now we hear Vivaldi as a champion of organized, structured, formal musical thinking. But that in his time, Vivaldi was seen as a wild and extravagant composer. How could this be, from the refined and stately pieces we heard in class? I think Four Seasons demonstrates this side of Vivaldi well. The beginning is characteristically Vivaldi – a ritornello form with a subject that is manipulated in a very structured way. However, in “Spring” at :36, we hear the sharp and surprising pierce of a higher violin as the shape of the piece completely changes, and then again at 1:59 is a dramatic and bold violin solo, absolutely unlike any Vivaldi we have heard before.

The other “seasons” also tell a story of Vivaldi different from the one we’re used to hearing. From the slow, somber chords of summer to the dissonant, piercing scales of winter, Vivaldi takes us through a journey. It’s easy to see why this work is one of his most popular, as a listener is inclined to pick a favorite season, one that resonates most with what he/she is feeling or maybe just with the weather outside. After listening to them all, my favorite is winter, even though I don’t like the cold much, but just because of how chilling a feeling the music creates just from listening to it.