Antonio Vivaldi (engraving by François Morellon de La Cave, from Michel-Charles Le Cène's edition of Vivaldi's Op. 8, 1725)

The Four Seasons (Italian: Le quattro stagioni) is a group of four violin concerti by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives musical expression to a season of the year. These were composed around 1718–1720, when Vivaldi was the court chapel master in Mantua. They were published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight additional concerti, as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention).

The Four Seasons is the best known of Vivaldi's works. Though three of the concerti are wholly original, the first, "Spring", borrows patterns from a sinfonia in the first act of Vivaldi's contemporaneous opera Il Giustino. The inspiration for the concertos is not the countryside around Mantua, as initially supposed, where Vivaldi was living at the time, since according to Karl Heller[1] they could have been written as early as 1716–1717, while Vivaldi was engaged with the court of Mantua only in 1718.

They were a revolution in musical conception: Vivaldi represented flowing creeks, singing birds (of different species, each specifically characterized), a shepherd and his barking dog, buzzing flies, storms, drunken dancers, hunting parties from both the hunters' and the prey's point of view, frozen landscapes, and warm winter fires.

Unusually for the period, Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying sonnets (possibly written by the composer himself) that elucidated what it was in the spirit of each season that his music was intended to evoke. The concerti therefore stand as one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what would come to be called program music—in other words, music with a narrative element. Vivaldi took great pains to relate his music to the texts of the poems, translating the poetic lines themselves directly into the music on the page. For example, in the middle section of "Spring", when the goatherd sleeps, his barking dog can be heard in the viola section. The music is elsewhere similarly evocative of other natural sounds. Vivaldi divided each concerto into three movements (fast–slow–fast), and, likewise, each linked sonnet into three sections.


Title page of Vivaldi's Cimento dell'Armonia e dell'Invenzione, which included The Four Seasons

Vivaldi's arrangement is as follows:

  1. Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 8, RV 269, "Spring" (La primavera)
    1. Allegro (in E major)
    2. Largo e pianissimo sempre (in C minor)
    3. Allegro pastorale (in E major)
  2. Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 8, RV 315, "Summer" (L'estate)
    1. Allegro non molto (in G minor)
    2. Adagio e pianoPresto e forte (in G minor)
    3. Presto (in G minor)
  3. Concerto No. 3 in F major, Op. 8, RV 293, "Autumn" (L'autunno)
    1. Allegro (in F major)
    2. Adagio molto (in D minor)
    3. Allegro (in F major)
  4. Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297, "Winter" (L'inverno)
    1. Allegro non molto (in F minor)
    2. Largo (in E major)
    3. Allegro (in F minor)

A performance of all four concerti may take about 40–43 minutes. Approximate timings of the individual concerti:[2]

  1. Spring: 10 minutes
  2. Summer: 11 minutes
  3. Autumn: 11 minutes
  4. Winter: 9 minutes

Sonnets and allusions

There is some debate as to whether the four concertos were written to accompany four sonnets or vice versa.[3] Though it is not known who wrote the accompanying sonnets, the theory that Vivaldi wrote them is supported by the fact that each sonnet is broken into three sections, each neatly corresponding to a movement in the concerto. Regardless of the sonnets' authorship, The Four Seasons can be classified as program music, instrumental music intended to evoke something extra-musical,[4] and an art form which Vivaldi was determined to prove sophisticated enough to be taken seriously.[5]

In addition to these sonnets, Vivaldi provided instructions such as "The barking dog" (in the second movement of "Spring"), "Languor caused by the heat" (in the first movement of "Summer"), and "the drunkards have fallen asleep" (in the second movement of "Autumn").

A new translation of the sonnets into English by Armand D'Angour was published in 2019.[6]

Sonnet text

Sonnet Italian English

Giunt' è la Primavera e festosetti
La Salutan gl' Augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo Spirar de' Zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio Scorrono intanto:
Vengon' coprendo l' aer di nero amanto
E Lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti
Indi tacendo questi, gl' Augelletti;
Tornan' di nuovo al lor canoro incanto:

E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme 'l Caprar col fido can' à lato.

Allegro mandolin concerto
Di pastoral Zampogna al suon festante
Danzan Ninfe e Pastor nel tetto amato
Di primavera all' apparir brillante.

Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are
softly caressed by the breezes.
Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar,
casting their dark mantle over heaven,
Then they die away to silence,
and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches
rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps,
his faithful dog beside him.

Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes,
nymphs and shepherds lightly dance
beneath spring’s beautiful canopy.


Allegro non molto
Sotto dura Staggion dal Sole accesa
Langue l' huom, langue 'l gregge, ed arde il Pino;
Scioglie il Cucco la Voce, e tosto intesa
Canta la Tortorella e 'l gardelino.
Zeffiro dolce Spira, mà contesa
Muove Borea improviso al Suo vicino;
E piange il Pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e 'l suo destino;

Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
Toglie alle membra lasse il Suo riposo
Il timore de' Lampi, e tuoni fieri
E de mosche, e mosconi il Stuol furioso!

Ah, che pur troppo i Suo timor Son veri
Tuona e fulmina il Ciel e grandinoso
Tronca il capo alle Spiche e a' grani alteri.

Allegro non molto
Under a hard season, fired up by the sun
Languishes man, languishes the flock and burns the pine
We hear the cuckoo's voice;
then sweet songs of the turtledove and finch are heard.
Soft breezes stir the air, but threatening
the North Wind sweeps them suddenly aside.
The shepherd trembles,
fearing violent storms and his fate.

Adagio e piano – Presto e forte
The fear of lightning and fierce thunder
Robs his tired limbs of rest
As gnats and flies buzz furiously around.

Alas, his fears were justified
The Heavens thunder and roar and with hail
Cut the head off the wheat and damages the grain.


Celebra il Vilanel con balli e Canti
Del felice raccolto il bel piacere
E del liquor de Bacco accesi tanti
Finiscono col Sonno il lor godere.

Adagio molto
Fà 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 bel godere.

cacciator alla nov' alba à caccia
Con corni, Schioppi, e cani escono fuore
Fugge la belva, e Seguono la traccia;
Già Sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De' Schioppi e cani, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.

Celebrates the peasant, with songs and dances,
The pleasure of a bountiful harvest.
And fired up by Bacchus' liquor,
many end their revelry in sleep.

Adagio molto
Everyone is made to forget their cares and to sing and dance
By the air which is tempered with pleasure
And (by) the season that invites so many, many
Out of their sweetest slumber to fine enjoyment

The hunters emerge at the new dawn,
And with horns and dogs and guns depart upon their hunting
The beast flees and they follow its trail;
Terrified and tired of the great noise
Of guns and dogs, the beast, wounded, threatens
Languidly to flee, but harried, dies.


Allegro non molto
Agghiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti
Al Severo Spirar d' orrido Vento,
Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
E pel Soverchio gel batter i denti;

Passar al foco i dì quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento

Caminar Sopra il giaccio, e à passo lento
Per timor di cader girsene intenti;
Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader à terra
Di nuove ir Sopra 'l giaccio e correr forte
Sin ch' il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;
Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
Sirocco, Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra
Quest' é 'l verno, mà tal, che gioja apporte.

Allegro non molto
To tremble from cold in the icy snow,
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one's feet every moment,
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold

Before the fire to pass peaceful,
Contented days while the rain outside pours down.

We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously,
for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and,
rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds course through the home
despite the locked and bolted doors...
this is winter, which nonetheless
brings its own delights.

Recording history

Bernardino Molinari, who made the first electrical recording of The Four Seasons in 1942.

The date and personnel on the first recording of The Four Seasons are disputed. There is a compact disc of a recording made by the violinist Alfredo Campoli taken from acetates of a French radio broadcast; these are thought to date from early in 1939.[7] The first proper electrical recording was made in 1942 by Bernardino Molinari; though his is a somewhat different interpretation from modern performances, it is clearly recognisable as The Four Seasons. Molinari's recording was made for Cetra, and was issued in Italy and subsequently in the United States on six double-sided 78s, in the 1940s. It was then reissued on long-playing album in 1950, and, later, on compact disc.[8]

The first American recording was made in the final week of 1947 by the violinist Louis Kaufman.[9] The recording was made at Carnegie Hall in advance of a scheduled recording ban effective 1 January 1948.[10] The performers were The Concert Hall Chamber Orchestra under Henry Swoboda, Edith Weiss-Mann (harpsichord) and Edouard Nies-Berger (organ).[11] This recording helped the re-popularisation of Vivaldi's music in the mainstream repertoire of Europe and America following on the work done by Molinari and others in Italy.[10] It won the French Grand Prix du Disque in 1950, was elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002, and was selected the following year for the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress. Kaufman, intrigued to learn that the four concertos were in fact part of a set of twelve, set about finding a full score and eventually recorded the other eight concertos in Zürich in 1950, making his the first recording of Vivaldi's complete Op. 8.[12]

The ensemble I Musici recorded The Four Seasons several times, the debut recording in 1955 with Felix Ayo; a 1959 recording featuring Ayo again; and subsequent recordings featuring Roberto Michelucci (1969), Pina Carmirelli (1982), Federico Agostini (1990), and Mariana Sîrbu (1995). There is also a video recording of The Four Seasons performed by I Musici in Antonio Vivaldi's hometown of Venice, filmed by Anton van Munster in 1988.[13] The 1969 Argo recording by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields conducted by Neville Marriner and featuring the soloist Alan Loveday sold over half a million copies; it became the ensemble's first gold record.[14]

I Solisti di Zagreb, under the baton of Antonio Janigro with Jan Tomasow as violin soloist and Anton Heiller on harpsichord, followed in 1957 on the Vanguard label, further reissued under the Philips and other labels. Wilfrid Mellers, an English music critic, musicologist and composer wrote of this performance, "the soloists phrase their lyricism beautifully."[citation needed] John Thornton wrote about this recording, "Here is matchless ensemble playing, topped by Tomasow's secure playing. Janigro reveals his talent for conducting, which competes with his considerable talent for cello playing."[15]

Ivan Supek wrote of this recording:

I will attempt to convey to you how much this performance means to me, and might mean to you, as well. My first encounter with the records took place almost thirty years ago, when "our" Antonio revealed to me the true significance of the piece of another great Antonio, his famous namesake, whose Le Quattro Staggioni I could hardly listen any more because of the "grand", actually too grand, performances usual at that time, let alone enjoy them. What a change it was – a window into a new world; music is fast, precise and true to life, the intonation is correct, the continuo appropriate, and the violin of beautiful sound in fitting correlation with the Zagreb Soloists. The self-assured and fine tone of Jan Tomasow's solo violin relates perfectly with the Soloists; the entire performance is impregnated with the spirit of Janigro's perfectionism, leaving the music and its soul fully exposed. It had been for a long time the only performance I could listen to. Only during [the] last decade some new kids, playing authentic instruments, have offered to me similar pleasure and insights into the music of Antonio Vivaldi and, to my great pleasure, Janigro's performance is no longer the only choice for me. In my opinion, this also shows how Janigro's performance in cooperation with the Zagreb Soloists was far ahead its time, as corroborated by Igor Stravinsky, who claimed that it was the most beautiful performance of Le Quattro Staggioni he had ever heard, a statement which I only recently learned about. No wonder, since such “bareness” and precision of Janigro's interpretation must have appealed to him. It was much later that I discovered the excellence of the recording as well. At that time, the Zagreb Soloists were recording for Vanguard, mostly in Vienna at various locations, and this particular recording was made in 1957 at Rotenturmstrassaal. Recording was produced by Seymour Solomon, chief producer of the entire edition, who would personally come from the USA to oversee every recording to be made by the Zagreb Soloists, whereas the Vanguard branch in Vienna "Amadeo" was in charge of the organisation. (My gratitude to one of the founders of the Zagreb Soloists, Mr. Stjepan Aranjoš, for providing me with some important insights). Janigro was a perfectionist, often rather merciless, not only in matters of music but also in terms of the sound, so he participated directly and intensely in [the] recording process, which was quite uncommon at that time. All that great care, by all participants in the project, is amply reflected in the recording itself, resulting in an airy performance of appropriate spaciousness and extension, with only occasional “congestion” of high tones in forte sections.[16]

Paul Shoemaker wrote about this recording:

Nothing I have heard changes my view that the best Seasons ever was performed by Jan Tomasow and I Solisti di Zagreb and beautifully recorded by Vanguard at the very beginning of the stereo era. If you have almost every other version of the Seasons, you’ll want this one, too. If money and space are no obstacle, it might be worth having.[17]

Nigel Kennedy's 1989 recording of The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra sold over three million copies worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling classical works ever.[18][19] The marketing of Kennedy's record was described as "the first time that a classical artist had been given the full pop marketing treatment", with a promotional single, and advertisements on billboards, TV and radio.[18]

Gil Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra recorded The Four Seasons as well as a music video for the first movement of "Winter" that was featured regularly on The Weather Channel in the mid-1990s.

Surround sound versions of the piece have been issued on Super Audio CD by Richard Tognetti, Pinchas Zukerman, Jonathan Carney and Rachel Podger.

The World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music in 1952 cites only two recordings of The Four Seasons – by Molinari and Kaufman. By 2011, approximately 1,000 recorded versions have been made since Campoli's in 1939.[citation needed]

In 2009, all four concertos were arranged for piano by pianist Jeffrey Biegel, who then recorded them the same year for the Naxos label. It is available in Europe and the United States as a CD.

Classical musicians have sought to distinguish their recordings of The Four Seasons, with historically informed performances, and embellishments, to the point of varying the instruments and tempi, or playing notes differently from the listener's expectation (whether specified by the composer or not).[20] It is said that Vivaldi's work presents such opportunities for improvisation.[21] Many period-based ensembles have recorded The Four Seasons, including La Serenissima under the direction of Adrian Chandler who recorded the Manchester version of The Four Seasons, The English Concert under the direction of Trevor Pinnock, the Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of Christopher Hogwood and Europa Galante under the direction of Fabio Biondi.


The Four Seasons was voted #67 in the Classic FM Hall of Fame. Three of the four concerti were included in the Classic 100 Concerto listing.

Derivative works

Derivative works of these concerti include arrangements, transcriptions, covers, remixes, samples, and parodies in music — themes in theater and opera, soundtracks in films (or video games), and choreography in ballet (along with contemporary dance, figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, etc.) — either in their entirety, single movements, or medleys. Antonio Vivaldi appears to have started this trend of adapting music from The Four Seasons, and since then it has expanded into many aspects of the performing arts (as have other instrumental & vocal works by the composer). This contest between harmony and invention (as it were) now involves various genres around the world:

1726 (or 1734)
1727 (or 1730, 1731)


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