Listening Guide to Vivaldi’s Autumn

The Autumn concerto from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Concerto for violin, strings and continuo, from Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione, Opus 8 No. 3 in F major
Notes (c) 2016 Christopher DiMatteo. All rights reserved.

The Four Seasons: The Sonnets and The Music

antonio vivaldi

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) in an anonymous portrait of 1723, in the Museo della Musica, Bologna.

The Four Seasons are part of a collection of twelve concertos entitled, “Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione.” Cimento means “Challenge,” “Contest” or “Test of Skill” which is an appropriately ambitious title.

There are four sonnets that go with each of the concertos of the Four Seasons, which lay out the program in the music. My translations of all four of the sonnets are on their own page on this site.

The music was composed in close correspondence to the sonnets. The words of the Four Seasons sonnets have been included right in the musical score ever since the first edition, published in Amsterdam in 1725. There are also additional words written into the score, which are not parts of the sonnets, which further clarify the musical narrative to the readers, musicians and listeners. At every letter marking the sections, there is a quote from the sonnet and some additional identifying descriptions. For example, at letter B, in the example below, the sonnet says, “E del liquor di Bacco accesi tanti” (“Their fires lit by Bacchus’ liquor”) and the extra note below it “E vbriaco” tagging that section as that of “the drunk.” (Read the V in “vbriaco” as a U, “ubriaco” which means drunk. The v/u switch is an old typesetting convention.)

The Story in the Music of Vivaldi’s Autumn

As with all the Four Seasons, the music of the Autumn concerto follows the story in the sonnet quite closely. After the Villanelle dance is introduced in the first movement, the rest of the movement is a technical display for the solo violinist (all of the section at letter B, below) where the notes depict the drunken revelry of the country people, ending with them falling asleep (letter C).

The whole second movement is a prolonged, peaceful nap (letter D).

The third movement tells the story of a hunt, in two voices. First, the whole orchestra plays the hunting motif, representing the hunters. Then, the solo violin part narrates the hunt from the point of view of the hunted animal. At letter G, measures 82 and 83, notice how quiet and subtle is the musical depiction of rifles firing and dogs barking, across all four sections of the string orchestra (at 1:42 – 1:44 in the audio track below). The hunt motif comes back again and again, and the solo part becomes more and more frantic and technically challenging as it tells the story of the fleeing animal and its eventual capture and demise.

This listening guide shows the Autumn sonnet, with the original Italian lines in blue, my translations right below them, followed by bits of the score showing the musical themes that illustrate each section of the sonnet.


Giuseppe Arcimboldo Autumn

Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), Autumn

First, here is my translation of the complete sonnet, then the listening guide.

AUTUMN
(Allegro)
They dance and sing the Villanelle,
And celebrate the finished harvest
Their fires lit by Bacchus’ liquor
And all their pleasure ends in sleep

(Adagio molto)
Let all of us leave the songs and dances
In the cool and crisp and pleasing air
The season invites us, every one,
To peaceful sleep and fine enjoyment.

(Allegro)
The hunters are ready just before dawn
With horns and rifles and a small pack of dogs,
Their prey flees quickly, they follow its scent,

Now they surprise it, stunned by the noise,
Of the rifles and dogs, it tries to fight back
But weakened by fleeing, it struggles and dies.

Translation (c) 2016 Christopher DiMatteo. All rights reserved.


AUTUNNO (with translations, and the musical examples)

(Allegro)

Celebra il Vilanel con balli e Canti
Del felice raccolto il bel piacere
They dance and sing the Villanelle,
And celebrate the finished harvest

vivaldi's autumn villanelle
E del liquor di Bacco accesi tanti

Their fires lit by Bacchus’ liquor   [drunken solo, measures 32 to 56, audio from 1:07 to 2:07 ]
vivaldi's autumn ubriaco solo
Finiscono col Sonno il lor godere
And all their pleasure ends in sleep

vivaldi's autumn sonno


(Adagio molto)

Fa’ ch’ ogn’ uno tralasci e balli e canti
L’ aria che temperata dà piacere,
E la Staggion ch’ invita tanti e tanti
D’ un dolcissimo sonno al ben godere.
Let all of us leave the songs and dances
In the cool and crisp and pleasing air
The season invites us all
To peaceful sleep and fine enjoyment.
vivaldi's autumn ubriachi dormienti


(Allegro)

I cacciator alla nov’alba à caccia
Con corni, Schioppi, e cani escono fuore
The hunters are ready just before dawn
With horns and rifles and a small pack of dogs,

vivaldi's autumn caccia

vivaldi's autumn corni
Fugge la belva, e Seguono la traccia;
Their prey flees quickly, they follow its scent,

vivaldi's autumn fugge le belva
Già Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De’ Schioppi e cani, ferita minaccia
Now they surprise it, stunned by the noise,
Of the rifles and dogs, it tries to fight back

vivaldi's autumn rifles and dogs

vivaldi's autumn fleeing the hunt
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.
But weakened by fleeing, it struggles and dies.

vivaldi's autumn hunt


Vivaldi’s’ works are in the public domain. Scores from www.MutopiaProject.org. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 (Unported) License. The image of Vivaldi is an anonymous portrait in the public domain and is held in the Museo della Musica in Bologna. The image of Arcimboldo’s Autumn is also in public domain, the work is in the Musée du Louvre in Paris. The recordings are by Neville Mariner and the Academy of S. Martin in the Fields, they may not be copied and are here presented under fair use.