CONCERTO IN FOUR SEASONS: IV. WINTER

PROGRAMME NOTES

The inspiration for composing a Concerto in Four Seasons came from the 300th anniversary (1720-23) of Vivaldi composing The Four Seasons and their first publication in Amsterdam (1725) as part of the 12 concertos collected in his Opus 8 “Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione” or “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention”. 

I wanted to compose a Double Concerto for Baroque Violin and Harpsichord that explored the virtuosic Baroque Violin technique of Vivaldi and the character and descriptive Harpsichord repertoire of Couperin and Rameau. At the same time, I wanted to create a soloistic Contemporary Continuo role for the Harpsichord in a chamber music context; one which uses thematic material in a soloistic character and descriptive style, but at the same time provides an inventive harmonic accompaniment.  

Within these remits, both Violin and Harpsichord use Historically Informed Practice. For instance, in the Baroque ornamentation of the melodic line of the Solo Violin: the appoggiaturas and acciaccaturas and double stopping; In the Harpsichord trills and chromatic scales, which evoke the ghostly reminiscence of I. Spring's Birdsong. 

The other source of inspiration was the four sonnets, probably written by Vivaldi himself, inserted as a descriptive programme into the score. Due to my great love of Shakespeare's Sonnets, I decided to take lines from the Sonnets that describe the four seasons - their elements, weather and moods, literal and metaphorical - and use these for my own descriptive programme, also written into the score. These lines are printed in “bold italics in quotation marks” with the Sonnet number in bold in Roman numerals after each. Other technical and dynamic instructions for the players are written in bold. 

The programmatic element creates a musical onomatopoeia - music that looks and sounds like the things it’s representing. For instance: jagged melodic lines represent Lighting, the major 3rd interval reproduces the call of the Cuckoo, the swooping scales represent the Lark, the swarming Violin Solo line in Summer represents The March of the Bumble Bees, the arpeggiated descending 'droplets' syncopated between RH & LH in the Harpsichord evoke a Cloudburst of Rain in III. Autumn. 

I also refer to Vivaldi’s Opus 8 title The Contest ofHarmony and Invention in the subtitle to my piece: Opus 8: The Contest ofInterval and Scale. This refers to The Contest of the Birds in I. Spring between the Cuckoo (major and minor 3rd Intervals) and the Lark (swooping scales) and elsewhere in the Solo Harpsichord and Violin parts, which employ virtuosic arpeggios and scalic motifs. 

In terms of style, I very much wanted to write in effect, a film score, which is redolent with the atmospheres and elements of the four seasons and conjures the sensory experience of the changing climates and weather events as well as the insects and animals who inhabit these. 

IV. WINTER opens with the Harpsichord's metallic trills and chromatic descending scales as as a depiction of the frozen landscape and ghostly reminiscence of Spring's Birdsong. To further evoke the "Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone, Beauty o'er-snowed and bareness everywhere;" V, in Bar 97, I use slides within the interval of a major and minor 3rd in the upper strings as a whistling wind. The Violas play an undulating ‘hilly’ accompaniment figure to describe the hibernating creatures of the Earth breathing beneath the ground. The music then moves tentatively into a joyous Skating on Ice, in the style of a Chopin Waltz. The Solo Violin turns in ever-increasing triplet circles and double-stops, spinning round and round and nearly slipping accompanied by the Harpsichord's Waltz chords. A triplet Snow Flurry: “Against the stormy gusts ofwinter’s day” XIII in Bar 154 interrupts the skating and the Solo Violin and Harpsichord move into a double virtuosic Musette motif comprising drones with violin double stopping and harpsichord semi-quaver passages depicting the: “barren rage ofdeath’s eternal cold” XIII. The movement ends with areprise of the skating theme with the hibernating birds' ghostly call from the frozen memories of Spring, promising their return... and the skaters dance their final Waltz, taking the Winter with them... leaving the Solo Violin’s melody and the Harpsichord's major 7th chords to echo once more as a lingering memory of this joyous moment. The trill on the final note presages the Birdsong of the returning Spring... 

IV. WINTER 

Bar 94 
"Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone, Beauty o' er-snowed and bareness every where;" V 
Bar 97 
"the very birds are mute: Or ifthey sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer," 
Bar 100 
"That leaves look pale, dreading the winter' s near." XCVII 
Bar 106 
"What freezings I have felt, what dark days I have seen!" XCVII  
Bar 112 
To skate on ice - tentatively at first, and then joyously in ever-increasing circles! 
Bar 116 
"with swift motion slide." XLV Nearly slipping!  
Bar 118 
Spinning! 
Bar 154 
Snow Flurry - "Against the stormy gusts of winter' s day" XIII  
Bar 160 
"And barren rage of death' s eternal cold" XIII 
Bar 190 
The hibernating birds' ghostly call from the frozen memories of Spring, promising their return... 
Bar 196 
The skaters dance their final Waltz, skating away, taking the Winter with them...