Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the four violin concertos that are among the pre-eminent examples of Baroque program music, are chestnuts in the classical repertoire. These pieces (in fact they are the first 4 of 12 violin concertos published under the name Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione) are ubiquitous on concert programs, have been transcribed for solo piano, jazz trio, and countless other formats, and have been recorded hundreds of times. It’s much less common, however, to hear them performed with the sonnets, which were written, it’s assumed by Vivaldi himself, to go with them.
Friends and former students of Shirley Givens perform Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with narration.
Juilliard concertgoers will have the opportunity to hear the entire package on November 23, when Pre-College faculty member Shirley Givens (Diploma ’53, violin), turns her recital time over to an A-list of her many alums who will perform The Four Seasons under the direction of her husband, Harry Wimmer (Diploma ’50, cello). The participants include Elizabeth Dabney Holzman (Pre-College ’80) as narrator; soloists Harumi Rhodes (Pre-College ’94; Diploma ’97, B.M. ’02) Artist Diploma candidate Elizabeth Fayette (Pre-College ’06; M.M. ’13), Min-Young Kim (Pre-College ’88; M.M. ’96), and Joseph Lin (Pre-College ’96; faculty); retired harpsichord faculty member Lionel Party (M.S. ’72, D.M.A. ’76, harpsichord); and a host of other alums in the orchestra.
Vivaldi (1678-1741) was not the first—or the last—composer to portray the four seasons in music, but his version is certainly the best known. Each of the sonnets, like the concertos, is divided into three sections corresponding to the three-movement, fast-slow-fast structure of the music. The cycle begins with these words: “Springtime is upon us. The birds celebrate her return with festive song, and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.” As the sonnets and the music progress through the year, images of hunters, shepherds, peasants, and benevolent and stormy weather abound. (The words “To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain,” paint the scene for the slow movement from “Winter.”)
The November performance is reminiscent of a 1974 concert that Wimmer conducted at the Aspen Festival with a number of Givens students performing and the late mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani, a Juilliard alum and former faculty member, narrating the sonnets. Wimmer and Givens wanted to repeat the experience at Juilliard, with which Givens has been associated practically since birth. She comes from Louisville, Ohio, where the home of Augustus Juilliard, the highly successful textile merchant and namesake of the School, still stands. She studied at Juilliard’s Preparatory Division (the forerunner of Pre-College) with Hans Letz and in the College Division with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay, and she has been on the Pre-College faculty since 1969. This concert is a chance, she feels, to celebrate the work of her students. And its musical aim, Wimmer told The Journal, “is to have players and audience enter Vivaldi’s wonderful world of musical tone painting.”