The Four Seasons actually come from a group of twelve concertos that Vivaldi called “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.” The twelve are referenced as Opus 8, but they actually date from Vivaldi’s 60s, almost at the end of his career. The reason for this lies in the fact that no one knows exactly how many works Vivaldi composed.
Vivaldi today ranks as one of the most popular of all composers, probably based on these four concerti. In fact, he was probably the most prolific composer ever, though ironically, he was virtually unknown until the 1920s. He had been ordained a priest but never took up the duties of his office, instead becoming the violin master of a girl’s orphanage in Venice. He flourished there and under his guidance, the school became “the” place in Venice to listen to music. There he composed prodigiously, churning out some 400 concertos for solo instruments, 46 operas, and scores of sacred and secular works. Unfortunately in his later years, the Church took action against Vivaldi for not performing his priestly duties (it was rumored he had two mistresses) and his contract with the school was not renewed. In addition, a wealthy patron died and Vivaldi ended up penniless and was buried in a pauper’s grave.
After he died, a count purchased the manuscripts of Vivaldi’s works from the orphanage, and gave strict instructions in his will that the works must never be published or performed. After nearly 200 years, the will was challenged and overturned and in the late 1920 the world began to hear the sweet music once again.
The Four Seasons is one of those “background” pieces that I heard at an early age. It melodies are woven into the very fabric of Western culture. There is something about it that, for me at least, never makes me regard it as hackneyed, though it gets played to death. Whenever I hear it, I am always surprised at how Vivaldi captured the joy and awe that everyone has felt at one time or another before Nature. For me, each new season, brings a sense of wonder as I see the earth born, mature, die and reborn again through the changing weather, flora, fauna and human activity.
When I first wrote this piece, some 14 years ago, I had intended to write more, but instead my daughter, Simone, and I made a peach pie, with the last peaches of the season. Afterwards, we read a chapter from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone out loud. As the weather had coincidentally just turned cold, we cuddled up together on the couch. When we had finished, Simone went to get ready for bed and I made my way to the computer. After writing a few sentences, from upstairs, I heard her calling me: “Dad, Wally has a tick.” Our cat had spent the previous night outdoors and since we’d had so much rain that fall, the insects and arachnids were having a late summer population explosion. So I had to go in search of tweezers, magnifying glass, and eventually cat, because he had run under the bed in fear when he realized our intent. But we plucked the evil arthropod from his cheek, and, as he later twined his way among my legs, I think forgave me.
Simone’s now 23 and is finishing up college in the spring. I can’t believe how time flew by and I wish I was still sitting with her on the couch reading Harry Potter out loud and petting our cat, who passed away in 2011. Or eating a piece of that peach pie. Cherish those times and every moment as you live it.