Chatham Baroque presents perennial favorite ‘The Four Seasons’
Even if you don’t realize it, chances are you’ve heard part of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” at the movies or in television commercials. It’s one of the pieces of classical music that has transcended the genre to become part of broader culture.
Along with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” is one of the biggest hits of the baroque era and has been frequently recorded over the past six decades. The musical reasons for its popularity are obvious. It’s tuneful, energetic and evocative. But it turns out that the music is more specifically programmatic than most people know.
Chatham Baroque will perform it Sept. 21-23 at various Pittsburgh locations. The program also includes Giuseppe Brescianello’s Chaconne in A major and Johann Casper Fischer’s Suite No. 4 from “Le Journal de Printemps” (The Spring Journal), Op. 1.
Exploration is the name of the game for Chatham Baroque. It has been so busy discovering and presenting undeservedly forgotten repertoire that it’s gone 27 seasons before getting around to one of the most popular pieces from the era it calls home.
Chatham Baroque violinist Andrew Fouts says the prospect of playing “The Four Seasons” is exciting.
“Exhilarating might be an even better word,” he says. “They’re such fantastic music that when I’m playing through them alone I feel my adrenaline start pumping.”
“The Four Seasons” are the first four in a collection of 12-violin concerti called “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention,” Op. 8, which were first published in 1725 and immediately became very popular. So popular, in fact, that Vivaldi and other composers borrowed from or were inspired by it. In our own time, notable “Four Seasons” have been created by Max Richter, Philip Glass, Nigel Kennedy and Mark O’Connor.
What the poetry makes clear about “The Four Seasons” is how representational the details of “The Four Seasons” are. The music illustrates murmuring streams, birds singing, lightning and thunderstorms, a sleeping shepherd as well as his faithful dog, alcohol fueled peasant celebration after harvest, icy paths and slipping on the ice, as well the chill of north winds. In the violin part, one particularly wild solo is followed by the word “drunkard.”
The program book for these concerts will include the full text of the poems in the original Italian with English translation.
Chatham Baroque is a trio, which will be expanded by guest musicians for this concert. While Vivaldi is usually played by a chamber orchestra, Chatham Baroque will perform “The Four Seasons” with one played on each of the parts.
“This will be a real lean machine,” says Fouts. “This will give us the opportunity to play really softly with tonal qualities that will be distinctive to this small an ensemble.
But the continuo section, which plays the bass line with harmony, will include viola da gamba, harpsichord and three fretted instruments – theorbo, archlute and baroque guitar.
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.