Discuss the expressive use of harmony and tonality in Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’.
The expressive use of harmony and tonality helps set the scene for each season’s concerto, and helps establish the mood and emotions presented in the sonnets.
Tonality gives audiences an immediate prediction of the overall mood of each concerto as the tone colour plays a huge role in truly understanding the feeling behind each season. The lighter tone in Spring which is in E major, is based upon descriptions of birds, streams and meadows the sonnet and reflected through the instruments’ imitations. Autumn is also in a major key (F major), and is an upbeat and joyful section that depicts the celebration of harvest.
On the other hand, Summer has a very different tone in G minor, with fast repetition throughout to show the storm’s thunder, flashes of lightening, wind and hail, as well as the shepherd and buzzing insects. Winter has an even darker tone than Summer, in F minor with an upbeat orchestra capturing the cold winter experiences like wind, snow, slipping on ice and chattering teeth.
There is both concord and discord harmony used in The Four Seasons which is used to enhance the image created in the sonnets. In Spring, the first movement begins with simple harmonies over a heavy tonic pedal, however brings an ascending chromatic phrase over a C# pedal in the bass after modulating to C# minor. Vivaldi also includes the use of sevenths, either through adding it to a chord, or the use of a melody line being sevenths apart. In the final episode of the last movement of Spring, a sevenths is played over a dominant pedal, with highly expressive touches such as the F natural and the leap of a major seventh from E to D#. Other types of sevenths are also used adding to the harmony, with an augmented seventh giving a jarring interval from a G to A flat in the first movement of Summer, representing birds.
There is lots of dissonance heard in the concerto Winter, which is the darkest of the four concerti, with dissonant entries in the very first section of the first movement; a G in the viola and D flat in the second violin, building a diminished chord against an F pedal, followed by a diminished seventh with the tonic F minoring played afterwards for the first time. Chromatic chords are used (F7 and G7/f) over a tonic pedal, used to build up suspense and fear. The slower second movement is contrasting with sustained harmony notes in the viola, but the chromaticism returns for the third movement where stepwise movement in the violins and violas brings back the feel of fear and caution of the winter weather.
To conclude, Vivaldi expressively uses both harmony and tonality to depict the overall mood of each concerto, and add to the image created by the sonnets for the audience.
Discuss the expressive instrumental techniques in Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’.
Vivaldi uses various…