Four Lessons I Learned from Antonio Vivaldi: Spring’s First Lesson
By Cathleen Elise Rossiter
Marco Ricci– Landscape with River and Figures. c. 1720. Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.
Spring – Accompanying Sonnet for Concerto in E Major
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 goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.
– Antonio Vivaldi –
Lately, I have been thinking of my annual reading of Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. As many of you know, I read it every summer and have been doing so for the past twenty-ish years. The more I read this one piece of literature, the more I learn about it and from it. This thinking has reminded me that we can learn something new from repeated exposure to any single creative endeavor (my term for Art in general). Therefore, for the next four weeks, I will be writing about the different lessons I learn from my repeated exposure to a single creative endeavor of a particular person. With spring upon us, I thought it fitting that I explore what Antonio Vivaldi has to say to me through the first concerto of his Four Seasons, Spring (the link is to a good YouTube recording of Spring only).
Signor Vivaldi, I have learned, embodies the theme of Art Life Connection in that his music, particularly The Four Seasons, was inspired by the landscape paintings (the creative expressions of) Marco Ricci, a contemporary artist of Signor Vivaldi – in fact they both appear to have lived in Venice around the same time. Signor Ricci’s landscapes created a desire in Signor Vivaldi to replicate the scenes on the canvas in musical form. Art imitating life as imitated through the art of another – a beautiful cycle of creation.
Looking at the landscape above, the easy, flowing technique with which the artist painted the scene transmits a sense of movement and life. I can almost hear the little stream and feel the spray of the water as it tumbles over the rocks onto other rocks below. The movement depicted in the trees allows me to imagine the breeze winding itself around me, fiddling with the loose strands of my bangs hanging in front of my eyes; I am almost able to inhale the scent of new-grown grass filled with wildflowers.
Listening to Vivaldi’s musical interpretation has the same effect. The opening has me dancing for joy along with the birds as they flitter about in the springtime sun; reveling in the happiness of the brook as it frolics on its way downstream, encouraged by the afternoon breeze; running for cover at the approaching rain shower; dancing again as the storm passes, singing in delight with the birds. The other movements evoke different images and their corresponding sensations.
Signor Vivaldi has taught me that there are no limits or confines to the number of inspirations nor of the methods used to relate those expressions – a look at the list (in section 5 of the link) is quite an eye-opener. In order for him to express the inspiration that Signor Ricci’s landscapes provided, Vivaldi refined an existing form of music, Program Music, becoming an acknowledged master of the form. What a thrill to imagine just how far the ripples of our own creative expressions might travel.