ANTON IO VIVA LDI Winter
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes a frosty piece from Vivaldi’s undisputed magnum opus, The Four Seasons.
For centuries, people have been inspired to emulate the natural environment in music. From the Japanese flute mimicking the wind through the mountains, Mongolian singers’ uncanny impersonations of streams, to the Chinese zither’s emulation of animal calls, there seems to have always been a desire to bring into music the sounds of the natural world. There are many examples in the Western Art music tradition of such ‘programmatic’ writing. These have included birdsong (in everything from medieval English songs, Renaissance madrigals and the modernist music of Messiaen and Ligeti) to Beethoven’s musical interpretations of lightning bolts, thunder and babbling brooks in his 6th (‘Pastoral’) Symphony.
But perhaps the most famous ‘musicalisation’ of nature in the orchestral repertoire is Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
Antonio Vivaldi (1648-1741) was one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, with a masterful, yet entirely accessible, control of melody and harmony. He was a huge inspiration to subsequent composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent evenings transcribing his music by moonlight, which some have suggested led to his ultimate blindness. The Four Seasons (composed in 1723) is a series of four violin concertos, each in three movements, representing the natural cycle, from icy winds and summer storms to the exuberant celebration of spring’s arrival.
Largo is one of the more approachable arrangements in this series, which means you can bring to bear as much expression as possible.
The work has remained popular through the centuries and is perfectly accessible to cultures all over the world. Indeed, Nigel Kennedy’s 1989 recording - by many seen as the modern definitive verson - sold over two million copies!
For this article, I’ve chosen the beautiful middle movement (Largo) from Winter. Although this is a work for solo violin and string ensemble, the melody and harmony is so evocative and powerful in its simplicity, that it works in its entirety as a solo guitar arrangement.
I’ve transposed the original key of E-flat major down a semitone to D major, to make it more guitar friendly, and reduced the string accompaniment to make it more playable. Largo is one of the more approachable arrangements of this series, which means you can bring to bear as much expression as you can muster. Enjoy learning it, and I hope you gain pleasure from it all year round!
Vivaldi: one of the Baroque era greats