©TheGalleryCollection/Corbis
©TheGalleryCollection/Corbis

Why is the Four Seasons Such a Hit?

Almost three centuries ago, Vivaldi celebrated the four seasons. The piece became a global hit in the 20th century. Why?

They are the most famous violin concertos of the history of music. The Four Seasons of Vivaldi exist in hundreds of versions and stand on the podium of the most played pieces worldwide. How does such an enthusiasm exist, almost 300 hundred years after the piece was written?

At the time, in the 18th century, Vivaldi is a reputed and prolific composer. Without having precise datas, we estimate his repertoire contains more than 1,000 pieces. Among his compositions, one of them knows a wide success. The piece introduces a collection of concertos called Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione (The Contes Between Harmony and Invention) and is called Le Quattro stagioni or The Four Seasons.

Birth of a hit

Driven by his success, Vivaldi doesn't doubt he just composed a huge hit of the history of music. At the time, the piece fills perfectly the criteria of baroque music. The composer and musicologist Karol Beffa explained: "It is a music of strong dramatic contrasts: between the nuances forte and piano, between the periods tutti where all the orchestra plays and the periods where only a part of it or a soloist is playing... This importance of contrasts is at the heart of the baroque music".

This profusion of contrasts can be found within a quick movement or a slow movement. Right in the middle of the quavers played rapidly, suddenly a silent or a moment of suspension can occur, and vice versa.

But what intrigues even more the audience at the time are the mimicries very present in The Four Seasons. Throughout the four concertos, we think we hear the sound of birds, the storm raging, the rain, the wind or the weight of a hot summer.

After those moments of fame, The Four Seasons were forgotten for two centuries. We had to wait the 1920's to see the partition reappearing between the hands of a French musicologist, Marc Pincherle, a Vivaldi specialist (he wrote his thesis during his doctorate on the composer and his pieces)

The 20th century revived The Four Seasons

After the theory led by musicologist Marc Pincherle came the practice through the fingers of the violinist Louis Kaufman. In the 1940's, he recorded The Four Seasons. This musician is mostly know for his collaborations with the movie industry, including the Hollywood movies soundtracks he played. His version of The Four Seaons made its way little by little in the record stores' shelves and in movie theaters.

Karol Beffa says "the use of that music in movies or advertisements made it a hit". The musicologist notices the piece is more present in advertisements for cars. "It is probably due to this extreme speed, even more so because in several versions for ancient instruments, the interprets tend on playing even more rapidly that what was left to us by generations of interpretations on modern instruments".

The beauty of The Four Seasons relies apparently on three elements: speed, contrats and mimicry. Et its success is in part due to its massive use in wide medium like the cinema or the advertising.

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Max Richter is not the only one who used and adapted The Four Seaons. On top of the transcriptions for other instruments (like Richard Galliano did for his accordion), jazz, rock, hard rock or electro took over this legendary piece of Vivaldi, covered patterns or sometimes the whole piece to created a version of their own. 

For example, the Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulovic covered The Four Seasons in 2001 in a very personal style to make the piece "younger" and used "new sounds". This record got the approval of the radio show on France Music Les Tribune des Critiques de Disques and was designated as the best version of The Four Seaons of the past 25 years.

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