Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was born on March 4, 1678, in Venice, Italy. His father, Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, was a violinist. Young Vivaldi, was thus able to study music with the finest musicians and composers in Venice. His career began when he was named maestro di violino (master of violin) at the Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy) in Venice in 1703. In 1718 he left Venice for Mantua and three of his operas were performed during that year’s Carnival celebrations. In 1725 the last four of his concerto publications appeared, leading with Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'invenzione, which contains the famous four-part masterpiece, The Four Seasons. From 1726 until 1728 he was engaged with opera at the S. Angelo theatre, once again, in Venice. Vivaldi ultimately left Venice hoping to find a position in the Imperial Court of Vienna, in Austria. However, he was not successful and without a patron following the death of Charles VI he died in poverty in Vienna on July 28, 1741.
The Four Seasons is a group of four violin concerti each of which presents a musical representation to a season of the year. Vivaldi separated each concerto into three movements, fast-slow-fast, and likewise, each is linked to a sonnet. His arrangement is as follows:
Spring has arrived with joy
Welcomed by the birds with happy songs,
And the brooks, amidst gentle breezes,
Murmur sweetly as they flow.
The sky is caped in black, and
Thunder and lightning herald a storm
When they fall silent, the birds
Take up again their delightful songs.
And in the pleasant, blossom-filled meadow,
To the gentle murmur of leaves and plants,
The goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
To the merry sounds of a rustic bagpipe,
Nymphs and shepherds dance in their beloved spot
When Spring appears in splendour.
Under the merciless sun of the season
Languishes man and flock, the pine tree burns.
The cuckoo begins to sing and at once
Join in the turtledove and the goldfinch.
A gentle breeze blows, but Boreas
Is roused to combat suddenly with his neighbour,
And the shepherd weeps because overhead
Hangs the fearsome storm, and his destiny.
His tired limbs are robbed of rest
By his fear of the lightning and the frightful thunder
And by the flies and hornets in furious swarms.
Alas, his fears come true:
There is thunder and lightning in the heavens
And the hail cuts down the tall ears of grain.
The peasant celebrates with dancing and singing
The pleasure of the rich harvest,
And full of the liquor of Bacchus
They end their merrymaking with a sleep.
All are made to leave off dancing and singing
By the air which, now mild, gives pleasure
And by the season, which invites many
To find their pleasure in a sweet sleep.
The hunters set out at dawn, off to the hunt,
With horns and guns and dogs they venture out.
The beast flees and they are close on its trail.
Already terrified and wearied by the great noise
Of the guns and dogs, and wounded as well
It tries feebly to escape, but is bested and dies.
Frozen and shivering in the icy snow,
In the severe blasts of a terrible wind
To run stamping one’s feet each moment,
One’s teeth chattering through the cold.
To spend quiet and happy times by the fire
While outside the rain soaks everyone.
To walk on the ice with tentative steps,
Going carefully for fear of falling.
To go in haste, slide, and fall down to the ground,
To go again on the ice and run,
In case the ice cracks and opens.
To hear leaving their iron-gated house Sirocco,
Boreas, and all the winds in battle—
This is winter, but it brings joy.
English translation by Betsy Schwarm
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator