The Four Seasons, Opus 8, nos.1-4 1715 | 37 mins
In his lifetime, Vivaldi enjoyed renown. But a hundred years after his death, he had been forgotten. Then in the 1950s, the arrival of the long-playing record brought Vivaldi's music back into fashion and into people's homes, popularizing what is now one of his most recognizable works: The Four Seasons. These four concertos tap into a tradition of Italian program music, and Vivaldi ingeniously integrates detailed weather reports and touches of genre painting into the piece. Bonus info: Vivaldi published accompanying texts to make his pictorial intentions explicit, and even included a running commentary that tells the violinist exactly when the zephyrs blow, the birds sing, the dogs bark, and the pedestrian slips on the ice.
Divertimento in D major, K.251 1776 | 27 mins
Outdoor music-making was a passion of Austrians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Growing up in Salzburg, Mozart produced an impressive catalogue of “incidental” orchestral works that were played at these outdoor diversions or as entertainment music on other occasions, including this elegant piece. The opening Molto allegro is charming and shows more than a little wit. The first Menuetto is a straightforward affair in which the wind instruments withdraw for contrast. The ensuing warm-hearted Andantino includes a surprise that arrives late in the movement. Then, a second Menuetto features a series of variations. After these variations comes a vigorous Allegro assai, an episodic and effervescent romp—just the thing to reflect the high spirits of the work’s intended listeners. To end, Mozart reminds us of the formality of the occasion through a Marcia alla francese—a March in the French Style.
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 1720 | 13 mins
In many ways, the Brandenburg Concertos push the possibilities of the Baroque concerto grosso form to the outer limit. Each of the six Brandenburg Concertos has its own distinct character. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is one of the set’s most virtuosic, and its timbre (the quality or character of sound) is the most brilliant of the set. It calls for a solo group (the concertino) of violin, recorder (or flute), oboe, and trumpet, which interweave against a background texture of strings and harpsichord (the ripieno).
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.