It is hard to find anyone who has not heard at least a fragment of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. The four violin concertos that open the collection Il Cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione have become the calling card not only of Vivaldi himself, but of the Baroque instrumental concerto in general. In the shadow of those four famous works in terms of the scope of their contemporary reception are the eight other concertos comprising the Venetian composer’s Op. 8. The ‘contest between harmony and imagination’ contained in the cycle’s title seems to refer to the idea that guided Vivaldi as he wrote the collection. He adheres quite closely to the principles of Baroque composition, keeping the whole set of concertos in ternary form, with quick outer movements and a slow middle movement. Their internal formal structure is also not particularly surprising. Yet there is no lack here of illustrative inventiveness on the part of Vivaldi, who gave programme titles indicating non-musical content to more than half of his concertos, such as ‘La caccia’ (‘The hunt’) for the Concerto in B flat major, RV 362. Perhaps his search for inspiration in nature and the world around him represented a form of dialogue with the earlier L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3, where inspiration came from harmony?
Simply… Philharmonic! Project 1:
Already in ancient Greece, Aristotle distinguished the arts that imitated nature, including among them (in part) music. The philosopher discerned the source of delight from contact with music in its concordance with nature, emphasising the importance of the empirical cognition of the art of music. A practical view was espoused by the thirteenth-century theorist Johannes de Grocheo, who alone described the full sound of Paris during his times. Presenting the musical genres currently in use, he left us one of the few profiles of the secular music cultivated during that period. Almost 200 years later, another theorist, Johannes Tinctoris, also focussed his attention on compositions of his own times. His tastes were reflected in the Mellon Chansonnier, prepared for a Neapolitan princess. The sounds of the natural world were also embraced by the Venetian Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi. In his collection Il Cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione, Op. 8, the composer introduced suggestive titles for his concertos that directly point to sound inspirations from the world around him. Besides his most famous Four Seasons, he also illustrated, for example, the sounds that accompanied hunting.