Richard Egarr brings a joyful sense of adventure and a keen, enquiring mind to all his music-making - whether conducting, directing from the keyboard, giving recitals, playing chamber-music, and indeed talking about music at every opportunity.
Benjamin Beilman has won praise both for his passionate performances and deep rich tone which the Washington Post called “mightily impressive,” and The New York Times described as “muscular with a glint of violence.”
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.
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Richard Egarr brings a joyful sense of adventure and a keen, enquiring mind to all his music-making - whether conducting, directing from the keyboard, giving recitals, playing chamber-music, and indeed talking about music at every opportunity. Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music since 2006, in September 2019 he adds two new responsibilities as Principal Guest Conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, Artistic Partner of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota. He will become Music Director Designate of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in 20/21 and assume Music Directorship from 21/22. He was Associate Artist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra 2011-2017, has conducted major symphonic orchestras such as London Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw and Philadelphia Orchestra, and guested with leading baroque ensembles such as Philharmonia Baroque and the Handel and Haydn Society. He regularly gives solo harpsichord recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall and elsewhere.
Benjamin Beilman has won praise both for his passionate performances and deep rich tone which the Washington Post called “mightily impressive,” and The New York Times described as “muscular with a glint of violence.” The Times has also praised his “handsome technique, burnished sound, and quiet confidence,” and the Strad described his playing as “pure poetry.” In a 2018 feature in The Boston Globe, David Weininger remarked that Beilman’s “playing already has its own sure balance of technical command, intensity, and interpretive finesse.”
In the 2017-18 season, Beilman appeared as a soloist with the Detroit, Houston, Oregon, North Carolina and Indianapolis Symphonies and Orchestra St. Luke’s. He also did a multi-city tour of California with the New Century Chamber Orchestra in a program which he both programmed and play-directed. Abroad, Beilman made his Australian concerto debut with the Sydney Symphony, and debuted with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Trondheim Symphony.
In the spring of 2018, Benjamin Beilman and pianist Orion Weiss premiered Demons, a new sonata written for the pair by Frederic Rzewski, and commissioned by Music Accord. Beilman and Weiss performed the work, which is dedicated to the political activist Angela Davis on recital programs presented by the Boston Celebrity Series, Shriver Hall Concert Series, Parlance Chamber Music, Gilmore Festival and Grand Teton Music Festival. Beilman and Weiss will continue to perform the work in recital during the 2018-19 season at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center and Spivey Hall. Beilman will also perform the European premiere of Demonsat the Heidelberg Spring Festival and on his return to Wigmore Hall in London. Beilman will also appear in recital at Philadelphia’s Perelman Theater and at Carnegie Hall with pianist Jeremy Denk and in New York and on tour with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
In 2018-19 Beilman will play-direct the Vancouver Symphony, make his debut at the Philharmonie in Cologne with Ensemble Resonanz, perform Four Seasonswith the Cincinnati Symphony and Richard Egarr, return to the City of Birmingham Symphony, and debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Beilman will perform concertos by Brahms, Bernstein, Prokofiev and Higdon, among others in orchestral engagements with the Berkeley, Greenville and Portland Symphonies; Rhode Island and Colorado Springs Philharmonic; along with the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, Iceland Symphony and Nagoya Philharmonic in Japan.
Beilman garnered worldwide attention following his First Prize wins in the 2010 Young Concert Artists International Auditions –where he was also recipient of YCA’s Helen Armstrong Violin Fellowship and a People’s Choice Award –and the 2010 Montréal International Musical Competition. He went on to receive prestigious accolades including a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, an Avery Fisher Career Grant and a London Music Masters Award and an exclusive recording contract with Warner Classics. Beilman released his first disc for the label in 2016, titled Spectrum and featuring works by Stravinsky, Janáček and Schubert. In its review of the album, All Music Guidewrote, “This is a young violinist to watch, one who has already mastered many styles and is working toward breakthroughs of his own.”
Beilman began playing violin at the age of five and went on to study with Almita and Roland Vamos at the Music Institute of Chicago, Ida Kavafian and Pamela Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy.
He plays the “Engleman” Stradivarius from 1709 generously on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation.
Stefani Matsuo is emerging as one of today’s most promising talents. In 2018 she became Associate Concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where she has been a member since 2015. In Cincinnati, Matsuo also serves as a co-artistic director of concert:nova, which aims “to transform hearts, minds and communities through thought provoking musical exploration.” Matsuo, along with her husband, cellist Hiro Matsuo, co-founded the 2M Duo, which made its international debut in 2017.
In the 2012–2013 season, Matsuo made her New York debut in Alice Tully Hall performing the Britten Violin Concerto under the baton of Jeffrey Kahane. She also made her solo recital debut at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., and was featured soloist with Greensboro Symphony and Symphony in C. She was winner of the 2012 Washington International Competition, as well as winner of the 2012 Juilliard Concerto Competition and top prizewinner of the 2011 Michael Hill International Competition.
She has been featured soloist with numerous orchestras throughout the United States, including the Aspen, Blue Ridge, Cleveland Institute of Music, Greensboro, Mid-Atlantic, Neponset Valley, North Carolina, Western Piedmont, and Winston-Salem orchestras.
As a dedicated chamber musician, she has collaborated with many distinguished artists, including David Aaron Carpenter, Bonnie Hampton, Stefan Jackiw, Mayuko Kamio, Kurt Muroki, Itzhak Perlman, Christopher O’Reilly and Dmitry Sitkovetsky. In New York City, she performed regularly with Jupiter Chamber Players, Solisti Ensemble and Salome Chamber Orchestra. She also served as concertmaster of Symphony in C.
She completed her Master of Music degree at The Juilliard School, under the tutelage of Sylvia Rosenberg, and has a bachelor’s degree from Cleveland Institute of Music with Paul Kantor.
Randolph Bowman, Principal flutist of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since1990, is a California native. He received his musical education at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Upon graduation, he enjoyed a successful freelance career, performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, the Boston Ballet and Opera Orchestras, the Handel and Haydn Society, and the Portland [ME] and New Hampshire symphony orchestras.
During his tenure as principal flute of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, Bowman performed at music festivals and concert halls throughout the United States and Asia under the baton of renowned conductor and film composer John Williams. Prior to his appointment in Cincinnati, Bowman was a member of the famed Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, appearing with them at Carnegie Hall and on tours of the musical capitals of Europe.
He has also performed as guest principal flutist with the Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Dallas symphonies, and the Bavarian and Frankfurt radio orchestras. For 27 years, Bowman served as Principal Flute of the American Symphony Orchestra during its annual summer residency at the Bard Music Festival in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Bowman premiered and recorded many new chamber works while a member of Collage New Music, the contemporary music ensemble of the Boston Symphony. He also recorded the Concerto for Flute and Orchestra written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harrison, at the composer’s request.
Locally, Bowman has been a frequent performer with concert:nova and Linton Music. He has served on the faculties of New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, CCM and Miami University.
CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. With a determination for greatness and a rich tradition that dates back over 120 years, the internationally acclaimed CSO attracts the best musicians, artists and conductors from around the world to Cincinnati. With new commissions and groundbreaking initiatives like LUMENOCITY®, One City, One Symphony, and the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, the Orchestra is committed to being a place of experimentation.
Louis Langrée began his tenure as the CSO's 13th Music Director in the 2013-2014 season with a celebrated program The New York Times said “deftly combined nods to the orchestra's history, the city's musical life and new music.” Over the Orchestra's 120-year history, it has also been led by Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Jesús López-Cobos, and Paavo Järvi, among others.
A champion of new music, the Orchestra has given American premieres of works by such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Bartók and has commissioned works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Copland's Fanfare for theCommon Man. The CSO was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience (1921) and the third to record (1917). The Orchestra continues to commission new works and to program an impressive array of music. In recent years, the CSO has performed the world premieres of Nico Muhly's Pleasure Ground, David Lang's mountain, Caroline Shaw's Lo and Daniel Bjarnason's Collider as part of the groundbreaking collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, Cincinnati's premier new music festival, as well as the world premiere of André Previn's Double Concerto. More recent commissions include Gunther Schuller’s Symphonic Triptych, three works set to the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou by T. J. Cole, Jonathan Bailey Holland and Kristin Kuster, as well three new concertos for orchestra by composers Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich and Zhou Tian, which will be released on a commercial recording in November of 2016.
The CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and continues to tour domestically and internationally, most recently to Europe in 2008 and to Japan in 2009, including two concerts at Tokyo's Suntory Hall and the CSO's first-ever nationally televised concert in Japan. The CSO has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall 48 times since its debut there in 191, most recently to rave reviews in May of 2014. In January of 2016, the Orchestra performed at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the invitational Great Performers series.
I AM THRILLED TO WELCOME TWO ARTISTS—Richard Egarr and Benjamin Beilman—both making their CSO debuts with a blockbuster program of music composed nearly 300 years ago. The program opens with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, a triple concerto showcasing, alongside Richard Egarr at the harpsichord, the musicality of two of our CSO musicians—Associate Concertmaster Stefani Matsuo and Principal Flute Randy Bowman. The four concerti that make up Vivaldi’s Four Seasons have become part of our collective soundscape, each illustrating the unique environments, moods and colors brought on by the changing seasons. Because of Richard Egarr’s infectious enthusiasm, energy, humor and imagination, I’m certain this well-known and greatly admired music will be imbued with fresh life in these performances.—LOUIS LANGRÉE
CSO notable performances: Three previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1920 (Emery Auditorium), Eugene Ysaÿe conducting | Most recent: February 1985, Michael Gielen conducting.
Duration: approx. 19 minutes
Bach’s Orchestral Suites (he would have called them “Ouvertures”—French for “opening piece”—after their majestic first movements) follow the early-18th-century German taste of deriving stylistic inspiration from France. It was Jean Baptiste Lully, composer to the legendary court of Louis XIV, whose operas and instrumental music set the fashion. Lully filled his operas with dances to please the taste of his ballet-mad King and if the mood struck him, Louis would shed his ermine robes and tread a step or two with the dancers on stage. (Reports, all—understandably—laudatory, had it that he was excellent.) For formal ballroom dancing or dinner entertainment or concert performance, Lully extracted individual dance movements from his operas, prefaced them with the opera’s overture, and served them up as suites. This type of work, virtually the only Baroque genre for orchestra that did not involve soloists or singers, was carried to Germany by one of Lully’s students, Georg Muffat (1653–1704). Bach’s cousin Johann Bernhard (1676–1749), a talented organist in Johann Sebastian’s hometown of Eisenach, was one of the German musicians who became acquainted with this recent bit of French fashion. He concocted four suites of dances in the Lully/Muffat manner for the local town band, and Bach probably learned the French style from him. When Bach came to compose his Orchestral Suites, he was familiar not only with the French tradition of Lully through cousin Bernhard, but also with that of Italy (many German musicians of Bach’s generation were trained in Italy), and he was able to synthesize those two great streams of Baroque music in works that are both surpassingly majestic and melodically inspired. English musicologist C.H. Parry noted that these Orchestral Suites show Bach’s genius “in a singular and almost unique phase: for none of the movements, however gay and merry, ever loses the distinction of noble art. However freely they sparkle and play, they are never trivial, but bear even in the lightest moments the impress of a great mind and the essentially sincere character of the composer.”
The dating of the Suites is conjectural. (Their numbering is arbitrary, assigned by Wolfgang Schmieder when he cataloged all of Bach’s works by genre in the 1950s in his monumental Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis [BWV].) It was long believed that Bach composed them during his tenure (1717–1723) as director of music at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen, north of Leipzig, where he was in charge of the instrumental rather than the sacred vocal music. He liked his job in Cöthen. His employer, Prince Leopold, was a well-educated man, 24 years old at the time he engaged Bach. (Bach was 32.) Leopold was fond of travel and books and paintings, but his real passion was music. He was an accomplished musician who not only played violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord well enough to join with the professionals in his house orchestra, but also had an exceptional bass voice. He started the court musical establishment in 1707 with three players (his puritanical father had no use for music) and by the time of Bach’s appointment the ensemble had grown to nearly twenty performers equipped with a fine set of instruments. It was for this group that Bach wrote many of his outstanding instrumental works, including the Brandenburg Concertos, Violin Concertos and much of his chamber music. The surviving sources for the Suites, however, are all from Bach’s time in Leipzig (1723–1750), where his heavy duties directing the music at the city’s churches still allowed him time to lead the Collegium Musicum, the “Musical College” that was the principal local producer of instrumental concerts. (They performed on Friday afternoons in Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house.) The only extant performing materials for the Suites are from about 1725 (Nos. 1 and 4), 1731 (No. 3) and 1738–1739 (No. 2), though it is uncertain if they were originally composed for the Collegium concerts at those times or arranged from now-lost pieces written as early as the Cöthen years.
Each of Bach’s four Suites is scored for a different orchestral ensemble. Three trumpets, timpani, three oboes and bassoon join the strings and continuo (bass and harpsichord) in the Fourth Suite. Each Suite comprises a grandiose Overture followed by a series of dances of various characters. These aptly named “French” Overtures are based on the type devised by Lully—a slow, almost pompous opening section filled with snapping rhythmic figures and rich harmony leading without pause to a spirited fugal passage in faster tempo. The majestic character of the opening section returns to round out the Overture’s form. The procession of dances that follows varies from one Suite to the next, though Bach’s sense of musical architecture demands that they create a careful balance of tempos and moods. The first such movements in this Suite are a pair of Bourrées, a dance of French origin that is joyful and diverting in character. When it was danced, the steps began with a brisk opening jump, a characteristic mirrored in Bach’s quick upbeat rhythm pattern. Next is a Gavotte, a dance of moderate liveliness whose ancestry traces to French peasant music. The two following Menuets are examples of the most famous of all the old courtly dances. Originally a quick peasant dance from southwestern France, the minuet had become more stately and measured by Bach’s time. The closing triple-meter Réjouissance is light and playful, a rousing ending to this richly hued work.
—Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Work composed: 1719 or 1720
Premiere: Probably performed shortly after completion at the court of Cöthen.
Instrumentation: solo flute, solo violin, harpsichord, strings
CSO notable performances: Six previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1932 (Emery Auditorium), Eugene Goossens conducting; E. Robert Schmitz, piano | Most recent: October 2000, Robert Porco conducting; Randolph Bowman, flute; Timothy Lees, violin; Michael Chertock, piano | Leonard Bernstein was conductor and pianist when the CSO performed this work in January 1946.
Duration: approx. 21 minutes
How compositions acquire their nicknames is often a mystery. No one is sure, for example, how Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony or Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto got their names. Several works have been named for people. The Kreutzer of Beethoven’s violin sonata was a violinist, while the Waldstein of his piano sonata was a nobleman. Bach’s Goldberg Variations were commissioned by Count von Kayserling to help cure his insomnia, but the music did not become known as the Kayserling Variations. Goldberg was the long-suffering clavierist who played the Variations night after night in an attempt to put the Count to sleep. The Brandenburg Concertos are likewise named for a person—Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. It is ironic that history has given the Brandenburg name to this music, because Christian Ludwig had no use for it. Yet it is only because of Bach’s Concertos that the Margrave is still remembered.
The Concertos were written while Bach was employed at the court of Prince Leopold of Cöthen. As the Prince belonged to the Reformed Calvinist Church, in which music played only a small role, Bach was not required to compose for the church. His output during his Cöthen years consisted, therefore, mainly of instrumental works.
In 1718, while in Berlin to order a new harpsichord, the composer met the Margrave of Brandenburg. Christian Ludwig cultivated the acquaintance of many musicians, and he collected scores, particularly of concertos. He heard Bach perform and, later, casually mentioned being interested in a series of concertos. The Margrave promptly forgot about his request and was no doubt surprised two years later to receive a beautifully autographed score of Six Concertos for Diverse Instruments. Bach had taken such a long time to write the music because he was probably less than enthusiastic about composing for the tiny court orchestra at Brandenburg.
Bach thought of himself as a humble servant; the era of the artist as independent genius was yet to come. Thus Bach’s dedication to Ludwig—translated by an unknown hand into courtly French—seems by today’s standards obsequious:
Two years ago I had the good fortune to perform before Your Royal Highness at Your command, and I noticed then that You showed some pleasure at the small talent for music which Heaven has given me. When I took my leave, Your Royal Highness did me the great honor of ordering me to send Him some pieces of my own composition; therefore, and in accordance with His gracious order, I have taken the liberty of fulfilling my very humble duty to Your Royal Highness with these concertos, which I have scored for several instruments.
Begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of the fine and delicate taste which the whole world knows Your Highness has for musical pieces; but rather to infer from them in benign consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I try to show Your Highness therewith.
Further, Sir, I beg very humbly that Your Royal Highness will continue to have the goodness to hold me in His good favor and be convinced that I have nothing nearer to my heart than to be employed on occasions more worthy of You and Your service.
I am, Sir, with unparalleled zeal, Your Royal Highness’s very humble and very obedient servant, Johann Sebastian Bach.
There is more than a little irony in one of the world’s great composers effacing himself in dedicating some of the world’s great music to someone who would not even bother to have it performed. Christian Ludwig did not think enough of the concertos to list them in his library catalog, which did include nearly 200 concertos by other composers. Bach’s manuscript lay unnoticed until 1734, when it was sold for a small sum after Ludwig’s death.
The instrumentation is different in each concerto, but in every case the ensemble was too large for the Brandenburg musicians. Each concerto did nicely fit the resources at Cöthen, however, and this fact suggests that perhaps the concertos were written for use at Leopold’s court and only later dedicated to Christian Ludwig.
The Brandenburg Concertos are typical of their age, in that they use a variety of instrumental combinations within the concerto grosso format. Some aspects of the concertos are experimental: the virtuosic treatment of the trumpet (Concerto 2), violin (Concerto 4), and harpsichord (Concerto 5); doing away with the contrast between a small group of soloists and a larger accompanying body of strings (Concerto 3 and first movement of Concerto 1); having soloists and continuo play a middle movement without orchestra (Concertos 2, 5 and 6). The Brandenburgs are both a summing up of the baroque concerto grosso tradition and a foreshadowing of the instrumental concerto of the upcoming classical era.
KEYNOTE. The Fifth Concerto, in contrast to the orchestral Third and parts of the First, is a true concerto grosso—a baroque genre in which a small group of instruments, known as the concertino, is accompanied by a string and harpsichord orchestra, known as the ripieno. In the Fifth Concerto the concertino consists of flute, violin and harpsichord, and the ripieno is the strings. The concerto goes beyond the traditional form of the concerto grosso, however. Normally the ripieno is supported by the harpsichord, playing what is called a continuo part—bass line plus harmonic filler. Thus the keyboard instrument usually has an essential yet background role. In the Fifth Brandenburg, however, the harpsichord is a member—the most prominent member—of the concertino. Thus the harpsichordist fills two roles—continuo player and soloist. The Fifth Brandenburg comes close to being a veritable harpsichord concerto.
Bach took full advantage of the harpsichord as solo instrument. The highpoint of its virtuosity occurs toward the end of the first movement, where it is given an extended unaccompanied cadenza. The middle movement, by contrast, is chamber music. The three soloists play what amounts to a trio sonata, while the ripieno remains silent. The final movement is a fugue, introduced at first by the concertino, which is then joined by the ripieni.
Le Quattro Stagioni (“The Four Seasons”) for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8, Nos. 1–4
Born: March 4, 1678, Venice
Died: July 28, 1741, Vienna
Work composed: c. 1721–1723
Instrumentation: solo violin, continuo, strings
CSO notable performances: Two previous subscription weekends (complete Four Seasons with violin soloist) | Premiere: September 1985, Pinchas Zukerman, conductor and violinist | Most recent: February 1998, Jaime Laredo, conductor and violinist.
Duration: approx. 37 minutes
The Gazette d’Amsterdam of December 14, 1725 announced the issuance by the local publisher Michele Carlo Le Cène of a collection of 12 concertos for solo violin and orchestra by Antonio Vivaldi—Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione, or “The Contest between Harmony and Invention,” Op. 8. The works were printed with a flowery dedication typical of the time to the Bohemian Count Wenzel von Morzin, a distant cousin of Haydn’s patron before he came into the employ of the Esterházy family in 1761. On the title page, Vivaldi described himself as the “maestro in Italy” to the Count, though there is no record of his having held a formal position with him. Vivaldi probably met Morzin when he worked in Mantua from 1718 to 1720 for the Habsburg governor of that city, Prince Philipp of Hessen-Darmstadt, and apparently provided the Bohemian Count with an occasional composition on demand. (A bassoon concerto, RV 496, is headed with Morzin’s name.)
Vivaldi claimed that Morzin had been enjoying the concertos of the 1725 Op. 8 set “for some years,” implying earlier composition dates and a certain circulation of this music in manuscript copies, and hoped that their appearance in print would please his patron. The first four concertos, those depicting the seasons of the year, seem to have especially excited Morzin’s admiration, so Vivaldi made specific the programmatic implications of the works by heading each of them with an anonymous sonnet, perhaps of his own devising, and then repeating the appropriate verses above the exact measures in the score which they had inspired. The Four Seasons pleased not only Count Morzin, but quickly became one of Vivaldi’s most popular works. A pirated edition appeared in Paris within weeks of the Amsterdam publication, and by 1728 the concertos had become regular items on the programs of the Concert Spirituel in Paris. The Spring Concerto was adapted in 1755 as an unaccompanied flute solo by Jean Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher and dilettante composer who was attracted by the work’s musical portrayal of Nature, and as a motet (!) by Michel Corrette to the text “Laudate Dominum de coelis” in 1765. Today, The Four Seasons remains Vivaldi’s best-known work, and one of the most beloved compositions in the orchestral repertory.
Of Vivaldi’s more than 400 concertos, only 28 have titles, many of those referring to the occasion for which it was written. Of the few composition titles with true programmatic significance, seven are found in the Op. 8 collection: The Four Seasons plus La Tempesta di Mare (“The Storm at Sea”), La Caccia (“The Hunt”) and Il Piacere (“Pleasure”). Concerning the title of the Op. 8 set—“The Contest between Harmony and Invention”—Amelia Haygood wrote:
“Harmony” represents the formal structure of the compositions; “invention” the unhampered flow of the composer’s creative imagination; and the “contest” implies a dynamic balance between the two, which allows neither “harmony” nor “invention” to gain the upper hand. The perfect balance which results offers a richness in both areas: the outpouring of melody, the variety of instrumental color, the vivid musical imagery are all to be found within a formal framework which is elegant and solid.
Though specifically programmatic (Lawrence Gilman went so far as to call The Four Seasons “symphonic poems” and harbingers of Romanticism), the fast, outer movements of these works use the ritornello form usually found in Baroque concertos. The opening ritornello theme (Italian for “return”), depicting the general emotional mood of each fast movement, recurs to separate its various descriptive episodes, so the music fulfills both the demands of creating a logical, abstract form and evoking vivid images from Nature. The slow, middle movements are lyrical, almost aria-like, in style.
For the publication of The Four Seasons in 1725, Vivaldi prefaced each of the concertos with an explanatory sonnet. These poems are given below with a note describing the music relating to the particular verses.
—Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Spring, Op. 8, No. 1 (R. 269)
The spring has come, joyfully (the vivacious opening section for full orchestra—the “ritornello”—that returns between episodes and at the end of the movement) The birds welcome it with merry song (trills and shakes, violins) And the streams, in the gentle breezes, flow forth with sweet murmurs. (undulating violin phrases) Now the sky is draped in black, Thunder and lightning announce a storm. (tremolos and fast scales) When the storm has passed, the little birds Return to their harmonious songs. (gently rising phrases and long trills in the violins)
And in the lovely meadow full of flowers, To the gentle rustling of leaves and branches, The goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog at his side. (Movement II)
To the rustic bagpipe’s merry sound, Nymphs and shepherds dance under the lovely sky When spring appears in all its brilliance. (Movement III)
Summer, Op. 8, No. 2 (R. 315) In the heat of the blazing summer sun, Man and beast languish; the pine tree is scorched. (the enervated “ritornello”) The cuckoo raises his voice (wide, fast leaps in the solo violin) Soon the turtledove and goldfinch join in the song. (A solo violin episode with leaps and trills) A gentle breeze blows (quick triplets, violins) But then the north wind battles with its neighbor (rushing scales, full orchestra) And the shepherd weeps (expressive, chromatic theme for solo violin and continuo) As above him the dreaded storm gathers, controlling his fate. (forceful scales and figurations in the full orchestra) His weary limbs are roused from rest By his fear of the lightning and fierce thunder And by the angry swarms of flies and hornets. (Movement II, alternating bittersweet plaints from the solo violin with quick, repeated note interjections by the full orchestra)
Alas, his fears are borne out Thunder and lightning dominate the sky Bending down the tops of trees and flattening the grain. (the tempestuous third movement)
Autumn, Op. 8, No. 3 (R. 293) The peasants celebrate with dance and song The joy of a fine harvest (the merry opening “ritornello”) And filled with Bacchus’ liquor (inebriated arpeggios, scales, trills and figurations from the solo violin alternating with the “ritornello” theme) He ends his fun in sleep. (progressively slower notes in the solo violin until the music stops completely before ending with the “ritornello” theme)
Everyone is made to leave off dancing and singing The air is gentle and pleasing And the season invites everyone To enjoy a delightful sleep. (Movement II)
At dawn the hunters set out With horns, guns and dogs. (the bounding main theme) The hunted animal flees, the hunters follow its tracks (arpeggiated triplets in the solo violin) Terrified and exhausted by the great noise Of guns and dogs. (violent, shaking figures in the orchestra) Wounded, it tries feebly to escape, But is caught and dies. (flashing scales by the soloist cut short by the violent interjections of the orchestra)
Winter, Op. 8, No. 4 (R. 297) Freezing and shivering in the icy darkness (the chordal, almost motionless main theme) In the severe gusts of a terrible wind (rushing scales and chords in the solo violin) Running and stamping one’s feet constantly (a brief, repeated note motive alternating with a leaping figure) So chilled that one’s teeth chatter. (tremolo)
Spending quiet and happy days by the fire While outside the rain pours everywhere. (Movement II)
Walking on the ice with slow steps (the plaintive main theme, solo violin) Walking carefully for fear of falling (slow, steady chords in the orchestra) Then stepping out boldly, and falling down. (quick scales and then several brief descending flourishes) Going out once again onto the ice, and running boldly (steady motion up and down the scale in the solo violin) Until the ice cracks and breaks, (snapping, separated figures) Hearing, as they burst forth from their iron gates, the Scirocco, (a smooth melody in close-interval harmony) The North Wind, and all the winds battling. This is winter, but such joy it brings. (rushing figurations close the work)