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Vivaldi's The Four Seasons

7:30PM, Saturday, May 24, 2014
Knox United Church
838 Spadina Crescent E, Saskatoon, SK S7K 3H4
iCalendar export

Alexei Kornienko conductor / harpsichord
Elena Denisova violin


Vivaldi  Concerto for Orchestra RV 151, G major (Alla rustica)

Corelli Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8

Geminiani  Concerto grosso No .12 in D minor, after Corelli, op. 5 no. 12, La folia

Vivaldi  La primavera, RV 269, E major

Vivaldi  L’estate, RV 315, G minor

Vivaldi  L’autunno, RV 293, F major

Vivaldi  L’inverno, RV 297, F minor

About the Concert

To mark the coming end of the symphony season, the SSO presents Vivaldi’s perennial masterwork, with Austrian “ambassador of tonal sensuality,” Elena Denisova, performing the solo violin role in this supremely popular concerto, which paints vivid musical descriptions of the character of each distinct time of year. Denisova is joined by husband and noted conductor, pianist, and cembalist, Alexei Kornienko. One of their recent collaborations, a recording of the rarely performed chamber music version of Vivaldi‘s The Four Seasons (DEKA), featuring Denisova on four historical violins and Kornienko‘s profound skill on the harpsichord, has been critically acclaimed throughout Europe.

Concert notes

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The music and composers


Concerto for Orchestra, RV151, Alla rustica


This concerto is not a concerto as we usually use the term, meaning a soloist set against the orchestra. Instead, the string orchestra is itself featured. In Antonio Vivaldi’s day, three-movement pieces without a soloist were often called a sinfonia (an overture played before an opera) but Vivaldi seemingly used the terms interchangeably, sometimes naming the same work a concerto on one manuscript and a sinfonia on another. Over his career, he wrote more than 60 of these pieces for string orchestra. This concise, almost miniature piece is one of Vivaldi’s most performed works. The first movement has a rustic, fiddle-like feel. The slow movement is simply written as chords over which the performers would be expected to add their own melodic embellishments. A short, lively Allegro caps the work.

Program notes prepared by Joan Savage, member Violin Section, Saskatoon Symphony. © 2014


Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8

1.  Vivace – Grave
2.  Allegro
3.  Adagio – Allegro – Adagio
4.  Vivace
5.  Allegro
6.  Largo, Pastorale ad libitum

By late in the 17th century, Italian composers and instrument makers had set the standard for string music across Europe. Cremona violinmakers such as Amati, Stradivari, and Guarneri had raised violin making to an art form, and Arcangelo Corelli became the most famous and influential violinist and composer of the Italian school. A violin prodigy, his reputation as a teacher equaled his reputation as a performer and composer, and his students spread both his violin technique and his compositions throughout Europe.

Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 8, was probably commissioned about 1690 by Corelli’s patron, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. The Cardinal’s “musical Mondays” concerts attracted the elite of Roman society and became famous throughout Europe. This concerto grosso was written “Fatto per la note di Natale” (for Christmas night) and contains a Pastorale (a siciliano movement that originated in a slow shepherd’s dance) that was typical of Christmas concertos of the time. Here, Corelli takes the normal sonata da chiesa (a work written to be performed in church, usually as an overture before Mass or as an instrumental Offertory), expands it from its usual four movements to six, and adds tempo changes that would have been startling to listeners in Corelli’s day.

How Corelli used the concertino (two solo violins and solo cello, plus harpsichord) against the ripieno (the rest of the orchestra) in his concerti grossi paved the way for the development of the modern concerto (one soloist against orchestra). His concerti grossi were studied and imitated, then the form taken to its next level by composers like Vivaldi and J.S. Bach.

Program notes prepared by Joan Savage, member Violin Section, Saskatoon Symphony. © 2014


Concerto Grosso in D Minor, No. 12, after Corelli, Op. 5, No. 12 “La Folia”

1. Adagio
2.  Allegro
3.  Adagio
4.  Vivace – Allegro
5.  Andante
6.  Allegro
7.  Adagio
8.  Allegro
9.  Adagio
10.  Allegro

Violinist Francesco Geminiani studied in Rome with Arcangelo Corelli and Allesandro Scarlatti. When Geminiani moved to England in 1714 at age 27, he was already a well-known virtuoso. By 1715, he was performing before the court of King George I, accompanied at the harpsichord by George F. Handel, and had a patron in the Earl of Essex (who later rescued Geminiani from debtors prison, where his penchant for collecting art landed him).

Geminiani orchestrated for string orchestra several of Corelli’s popular compositions. Though Geminiani also composed concertos, sonatas, and other works of his own, this homage to his teacher, completed in 1726, has survived as one of his most popular works and is regarded by some as his best.

The “Folia” was a fast Portuguese peasant dance in the 15th century. By the Baroque era, it came to mean a progression of set chords beneath a simple melody. Since the 17th century, more than 150 composers have used the “La Folia” theme and composed variations on it, among them C.P.E. Bach, Antonio Salieri, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Geminiani’s treatise “The Art of Playing Upon the Violin” (1751) still shapes our understanding of Baroque performance practice and influences how we perform Baroque music today.

Program notes prepared by Joan Savage, member Violin Section, Saskatoon Symphony. © 2014


The Four Seasons

La primavera (Spring), RV 269, E Major 

1. Allegro  
2. Largo e pianissimo sempre  
3. Allegro pastorale

L’estate (Summer), RV 315, G minor

1. Allegro non molto  
2. Adagio e piano – Presto e forte  
3. Allegro pastorale

L’autunno (Autumn), RV 293, F Major 

1. Allegro
2. Adagio molto
3. Allegro

L’inverno (Winter), RV 297, F minor 

1. Allegro non molto
2. Largo
3. Allegro

After becoming a priest in 1703 at age 25, Antonio Vivaldi took work at the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for orphan girls and foundlings (often illegitimate children of the aristocracy). The school had an outstanding musical reputation even before Vivaldi arrived; girls received musical training as a means to attract eligible suitors. In their regular Sunday concerts, because it was considered improper for women to perform in public, the girls often performed from a balcony or behind a lattice.

Under Vivaldi’s direction, these Sunday concerts became the talk of Venice. For the school’s orchestra, Vivaldi composed around 500 concertos, about 250 of which were for the violin and the others for cello, oboe, bassoon, flute, recorder, mandolin, and other instruments. He also wrote operas and cantatas for the school’s choir.

Inspired by four paintings by Marco Ricci, Vivaldi composed “Four Seasons” in 1723 and published it in 1725 in a collection of twelve violin concerti dedicated to his Bohemian patron Count Václav Morzin. It is not certain who wrote the sonnets that accompany the music, but because music and text are so tightly interwoven, most suppose Vivaldi was the author. “Four Seasons” has arguably become Vivaldi’s most famous work and one of the most popular pieces in classical music.

It wasn’t always so. Though Vivaldi’s music was immensely popular during his lifetime, by his death it had fallen out of fashion. It languished in relative obscurity until the middle of the 20th century. Louis Kaufman and the New York Philharmonic made the first recording of the “Four Seasons” in 1947 but it wasn’t until the Italian chamber orchestra I Musici made their debut recording of this work in 1955 that the piece became internationally popular. Now there are more than a hundred different recordings available. It is heard in popular culture from television ads, to television shows, to movies such as “The Four Seasons,” “Pretty Woman,” “Spy Games,” “A View to Kill,” “What Lies Beneath,” and many others. Nigel Kennedy’s “Four Seasons” recording, having sold more than two million copies, is one of the most successful classical recordings ever.

“Four Seasons” is one of the early examples of program music, where music is used to represent extra-musical events. For example, Vivaldi uses descending scales to depict slipping on ice, trills to imitate bird calls, and in one place instructs the violas to sound like barking dogs.

The paraphrased sonnets read as follows:

Spring: 1) Spring has come. Birds sing happily. Fountains flow. Then thunder and lightning split the sky. After the storm birds return, singing beautifully. 2) Amid flowers and rustling leaves a goatherd sleeps beside his faithful dog. 3) Nymphs and shepherds, greeting spring, dance to a bagpipe.

Summer: 1) The shepherd and his flock languish under the merciless sun. Pine trees wilt. The cuckoo sings, joined by turtledoves and goldfinch. The west wind gently blows. Then the north wind begins a battle. A storm brews overhead. The shepherd weeps, afraid of the storm and his fate. 2) The shepherd cannot sleep for fear of the storm. Flies and hornets swarm around him. 3) Thunder and lightning rip the sky. Hail batters the corn.

Autumn: 1) Peasants sing and dance, celebrating the good harvest. Drunk on wine, many fall asleep. 2) The mild, pleasant air lulls all to peaceful sleep. 3) At dawn, the hunters take their guns and dogs to the hunt. Their prey flees. They track it down. Terrified by the noise of guns and dogs, exhausted and wounded, it struggles to escape but dies.

Winter: 1) Shivering in snow, buffeted by wind, we run and stomp our feet. Our teeth chatter in the cold. 2) We spend the day beside the fire, content, while outside the rain soaks everyone. 3) Walk slowly across the ice, go carefully, afraid of falling. Then rush, slide, spin, and fall down. Run across the ice until it cracks. The hurricane-force south wind and blustery north wind leave their houses and battle each other. This is winter, but it brings joy.

Program notes prepared by Joan Savage, member Violin Section, Saskatoon Symphony. © 2014