Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
Sunday, June 13 | 6:30 PM
Stoneleigh: a natural garden
Felix Mendelssohn Sinfonia No. 2 in D minor
- Allegro vivace
Antonio Vivaldi The Four Seasons
Concerto No. 1 in E major, Spring
- Largo e pianissimo sempre
- Danza pastorale. Allegro
Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Summer
- Allegro non molto
- Adagio – Presto
Natasha Colkett, violin
Concerto No. 3 in F major, Autumn
- Adagio molto
Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Winter
- Allegro non molto
Luigi Mazzocchi, violin
Juan Bautista Plaza Fuga Criolla
Mendelssohn Sinfonia No. 2
The Octet for Strings and the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream are the works usually cited as evidence of Felix Mendelssohn’s surely unrivaled precocious genius. He was 16 when he wrote the Octet, and all of 17 when he wrote the overture. Yet there are even earlier works, such as the First Piano Quartet, Op. 1, composed at the age of 13, that reveal a no less stunning mastery. And the series of 13 symphonies, or sinfonias, for string orchestra that he produced between the ages of 12 and 14 command no less respect and affection among music-lovers.
The Sinfonia No. 2 in D Major, completed around the time of the composer’s 12th birthday, shows a remarkable maturity both in its expressive poise and in its assured command of counterpoint. The two outer movements, in concise sonata form, are insistently energetic, the finale in particular being a dashing gigue. Both are essentially monothematic, recasting their principal themes at the point where the key of the traditional subordinate theme is reached. But the most appealing movement of the three is perhaps the central Andante, set in a gentle B Minor, and explicitly marked “dolce.” There is a sweetness about this unhurried rumination that foreshadows one of the composer’s most characteristic manners of thought. Yet its smooth contrapuntal dialogue, enhanced at various points by some atmospheric pizzicatos in the bass strings, demonstrates that even at this early age Mendelssohn, natural melodist though he always was, realized the primacy of fertile motifs over mere tune-spinning in the construction of symphonic forms.
Program note by Bernard Jacobson
Vivaldi The Four Seasons
In the annals of program music, few works have gone into such charming detail of nature-painting as Vivaldi’s four seasonal concertos. No earlier programmatic compositions have taken so firm a hold on the imaginations of nearly three centuries of listeners. Aside from certain scenic effects in opera or ballet, Le Quattro Stagioni stands with Haydn’s two great oratorios and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as the supreme musical study of man in nature.
“The Red Priest,” as Antonio Vivaldi was called by his contemporaries on account of the color of his hair, spent most of his life in the service of the Venetian “Ospedale della Pietà” and its famous orchestra of orphan girls. He taught the violin in this charitable institution from 1703 on, and became “master of the concerts” there in 1716. It was for the gifted students of the Ospedale that he composed the concertos–more than 200 of them for solo violin with strings and continuo, and a still larger number for various other solos and groups–that bulk largest in his copious output.
The concertos known as The Four Seasons are the first four in a set of twelve such works (two of them playable alternatively on the oboe) collected as Vivaldi’s Opus 8. It was first published in Amsterdam around 1725 under the title Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, which may be roughly translated as “Experiments with Harmony and Invention.”
Let it be emphasized that the illustrative element is no mere side-issue in these four enchanting concertos. It is their very life-blood. Each of the four is prefaced with a sonnet (of unknown authorship) setting forth the pleasures and problems of the respective season. Vivaldi marked his scores at many points with index letters referring to specific lines in the sonnets, and with other programmatic hints, and a study of the musical text reveals what lengths he was prepared to go in the quest of vivid evocation. The barking dog is represented, in the slow movement of the Spring concerto, by a viola part that “must be played very loudly and abruptly throughout,” while the goatherd’s slumber is depicted by the solo violin’s broad, smooth line, and the pianissimo of the orchestral violins paints the “murmur of boughs and leaves” in the background.
The corresponding movement of Winter, again, creates an irresistible picture: here the orchestral violins’ pizzicato (the only upper part Vivaldi directed to be played loudly) is explicitly labeled “The rain,” and through the window, we can “see” the soloist, protected from the insistent plashing outside, contentedly toasting his toes by the fire. Listen also to the extraordinarily lifelike teeth-chattering effects in the first movement of the same concerto, to the nagging insect sounds in the middle movement of Summer, and to the obstreperous groups of “drunkards” falling about all over the first movement of Autumn.
These are only a few of the colorful scenes you will find described in the sonnets which are transferred with meticulous care and clarity to the music. Meanwhile, from one season to another, storms are always liable to break out at the thrust of a forceful violin bow. Storm scenes were among the favorite picturesque topics of the baroque musical language, which had a well-established vocabulary of melodic, rhythmic, and dynamic terms to denote very specific subjects or feelings. Yet Vivaldi’s various storms are nicely differentiated according to their seasonal context. Stravinsky, who called Vivaldi “greatly overrated–a dull fellow who could compose the same form so many times over,” can hardly have listened attentively to these four pithy masterpieces, nor for that matter to any number of other Vivaldi concertos each with its own unique and arresting touches both in expression and in design.
Here are Vivaldi’s detailed accounts of the contents of his four concertos:
I Spring is here, and the birds merrily greet it with joyful song, while the streams ripple with gentle murmur to the zephyrs’ breath. Then, with the air robed in black, lightning and thunder announce the season, and when they are still again the little birds resume their magic singing.
II In the fair flowery meadow, to the sweet murmur of boughs and leaves, the goatherd sleeps with his faithful dog at his side.
III To the festive sound of pastoral bagpipes nymphs and shepherds dance under the friendly sky to celebrate spring’s bright coming.
I Under the season made harsh by the sun, man languishes, the flock languishes, and the pines are scorched; the cuckoo raises its voice, and soon in harmony the turtle-dove and the goldfinch sing. Zephyr blows gently, but Boreas picks a sudden quarrel with his neighbor; the shepherd-boy weeps, fearful of the wild storm that threatens, and of his fate.
II His weary limbs are robbed of rest by fear of the lightning and the wild thunder, and of the furious swarm of gnats and flies!
III Ah, his fears are all too well founded. The heavens thunder and flash, and hailstones cut down the ears of corn and the proud grain.
I With dance and song the peasants celebrate the great joy of a successful harvest, and many of them, lit up by Bacchus’s liquor, round off their delight in sleep.
II Everyone leaves off dancing and singing, soothed by the temperate air, and by the season that invites so many to the enjoyment of sweetest sleep.
III The hunters set off at first light to hunt with horns, guns, and dogs; the game takes flight, and they follow its trail. Already dismayed and exhausted by the great tumult of guns and dogs, wounded, it makes a languid effort to flee, but, worn out, dies.
I Frozen, to shiver in the icy snow amid the cruel howling of the frightful wind; to run, stamping your feet at every moment, your teeth chattering from the extreme cold;
II to spend the day quiet and content by the fire while the rain soaks everyone outside;
III to walk on the ice, and with slow steps to tread carefully for fear of falling; to step out boldly, slip, fall to the ground; to take to the ice again and run hard until the ice cracks and breaks apart; to hear Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds burst forth in warfare from the iron gates. This is winter, but with all that, it brings joy.
Program note by Bernard Jacobson
Plaza Fuga Criola
Juan Bautista Plaza first began his studies in medicine, law, and music in Caracas, earning later, through a scholarship, the title of Master of Sacred Composition from the Pontifical Academy of Sacred Music in Rome. Back in Venezuela, he was appointed as the Master of Chapel at Caracas Cathedral and taught at the Escuela Nacional de Música. He founded a music school for children, the first choral society, the first well established symphony orchestra, and a radio program on music appreciation. He published many important musicological articles and helped research, catalogue and publish a series of scores from Venezuela’s colonial period. He became Venezuela’s director of culture in 1944.
His Fuga Criolla (1931) is one of the best examples of the integration of nationalistic principles with more traditional ‘classical’ European genres. It is a lively composition that incorporates popular Venezuelan songs and dances into the fugue form. Plaza starts the composition with the indication “Tempo de joropo,” Venezuela’s national dance. The Spanish word originally meant ‘party’ but it is now mostly used to mean a type of music that resembles the fandango, combining rhythmic shifts between duple and triple meter.
Program note by Luigi Mazzocchi
Natasha Colkett is a violinist and teacher based in Philadelphia. She is Principal Second Violin of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and is a member of the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. She also performs regularly with Opera Philadelphia, the Philly Pops, and Orchestra 2001, and spends summers in Colorado where she is a member of the Central City Opera Orchestra. Natasha teaches violin at Settlement Music School and at their after-school outreach program, Music Education Pathways. Natasha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and Violin Performance from Ithaca College and a Master’s in Violin Performance from the University of Denver.
Luigi Mazzocchi was born in Venezuela where he studied music in “El Sistema,” the “Sojo” Conservatory, and the Latin American Violin Academy with José F. del Castillo. Mr. Mazzocchi was a founder of several Venezuelan orchestras as well as a member of the “Simón Bolívar” Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as soloist with all the leading Venezuelan symphony orchestras, attended international music festivals in the US, Panama, Spain, France and Australia, and has been a prizewinner in solo competitions in Latin America, the US and Puerto Rico. Since 1996, Mr. Mazzocchi has been living in the United States where he studied violin with Liliana Ciulei and Helen Kwalwasser at Rowan and Temple Universities. He has been a member of many ensembles in the region. Currently he is the Concertmaster of the Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra, Concertmaster of the Ocean City Pops, Associate Concertmaster of the Delaware Symphony, and Acting Concertmaster of the Lancaster Symphony and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. He regularly plays on instruments kindly loaned by Dr. William Stegeman.
Luigi Mazzocchi, Acting Concertmaster
Meichen Liao Barnes, Associate Concertmaster
Catherine Kei Fukuda
Natalie Rudoi DaSilva
Natasha Colkett, Principal
Mary Yong, Principal
Branson Yeast, Principal
Miles B. Davis, Principal