With Fall Upon Us, Discover the Poetry in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”

We’re celebrating the Classical California Ultimate Playlist with a series of fun and informative blogs about the music you love.

As summer fades and autumn takes over, of course, to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, in which each season gets its own violin concerto.

The basis of the concertos is a set of four sonnets, quite possibly written by Vivaldi himself. These sonnets appear in the printed edition and an explicit connection is made between specific lines of the poems and specific passages in the music. The evidence for Vivaldi as poet lies in the fact that each of the sonnets lends itself excellently to the form of his concertos: a fast movement, a slow movement and another fast movement to conclude.

The middle of each sonnet has material suitable for that slow middle movement: In the spring, the slow movement depicts a goatherd sleeping with his faithful dog at his side. In the summer, it’s a tired shepherd who can’t sleep because of his fear of lightning, thunder, flies, and hornets. In the autumn, the mild air puts everyone to sleep. And, finally, in winter, the slow movement represents quiet contented days by the hearth.

This is the Autumn sonnet:

I. Allegro
The peasant celebrates with song and dance
The harvest safely gathered in.
The cup of Bacchus flows freely, and many
Find their relief in deep slumber.
II. Adagio molto
The singing and the dancing die away
As cooling breezes fan the pleasant air,
Inviting all to sleep
Without a care.
III. Allegro
The hunters emerge at dawn,
Ready for the chase,
With horns and dogs and cries.
Their quarry flees while they give chase.
Terrified and wounded, the prey struggles on,
But, harried, dies.

I’ll refrain from commenting on the wisdom of hunting while hungover, but I will invite you to listen for the details in the concerto:

Alan Chapman

Alan Chapman

Alan Chapman, in addition to his weekday morning program, is also the host and producer of two weekend programs: Modern Times and A Musical Offering.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he earned a Ph.D. in music theory from Yale University. He is currently a member of the music theory faculty of the Colburn Conservatory. He was a longtime member of the music faculty at Occidental College and has also been a visiting professor at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara. His analytical work has appeared in the Journal of Music Theory and in The New Orpheus: Essays on Kurt Weill, winner of the Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing on music.

Well known as a pre-concert lecturer, Alan has been a regular speaker on the L.A. Philharmonic’s “Upbeat Live” series since its inception in 1984. He also works closely with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Pacific Symphony. His lectures have been presented by virtually every major performing organization in southern California. He has been heard globally as programmer and host of the inflight classical channel on Delta Airlines.

Alan is also active as a composer/lyricist. His songs have been performed and recorded by many artists around the world and have been honored by ASCAP, the Johnny Mercer Foundation, and the Manhattan Association of Cabarets. His children’s opera Les Moose: The Operatic Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle was commissioned by LA Opera for its 1997-98 season. Alan frequently appears in cabaret evenings with his wife, soprano Karen Benjamin. They made their Carnegie Hall debut in 2000 and performed at Lincoln Center in 2006. Their recent CD, Que Será, Será: The Songs of Livingston and Evans, features the late Ray Evans telling the stories behind such beloved songs as “Mona Lisa” and “Silver Bells.”