Vivaldi's Four Seasons
FRI JAN 11, 8 pm • SAT JAN 12, 8 pm
RICHARD EGARR conductor/keyboard • BENJAMIN BEILMAN violin • STEFANI MATSUO violin • RANDOLPH BOWMAN flute
J.S. BACH (1685–1750)
Suite No. 4 in D Major for Orchestra, BWV 1069
• Bourrée I & II
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Le Quattro Stagioni (“The Four Seasons”) for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8, Nos. 1–4
• La primavera (“Spring”), RV 269
• L’estate (“Summer”), RV 315
• L’autunno (“Autumn”), RV 293
• L’inverno (“Winter”), RV 297
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
Suite No. 4 in D Major for Orchestra, BWV 1069
Born: March 21, 1685, Eisenach, Germany
Died: July 28, 1750, Leipzig
Work composed: ~1725
Instrumentation: 3 oboes, bassoon, 3 trumpets, timpani, continuo, strings
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.
To the rustic bagpipe’s merry sound,
Nymphs and shepherds dance under the lovely sky
When spring appears in all its brilliance.
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
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”
He ends his fun in sleep.
(progressively slower notes in the solo violin until
the music stops completely before ending with the
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
So chilled that one’s teeth chatter.
Spending quiet and happy days by the fire
While outside the rain pours everywhere.
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
Going out once again onto the ice, and running boldly
(steady motion up and down the scale in the
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)