Antonio Vivaldi: La Primavera, Movement I

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Antonio Vivaldi: La Primavera, Movement I

In 1703, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), already well known as a violinist, secured the position as maestro di concerto at the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four Venetian institutions for the care and musical training of orphaned girls. In his solo career, he had at times been criticized for having too great a command of his instrument, and “being of a volatile disposition, having too much mercury in his constitution.” His new position at the Ospedale provided him with performing ensembles and audiences eager for his compositions. While at the institution, he composed 500 concertos, forty-nine operas for the Venetian opera houses, and many other works.

The instrumental concerto style of Vivaldi was the result of a century of development and experimentation on the principle of concertato, or concerted music, in which contrasting sections are placed side by side in a single piece of music. Early concerti often contrasted solo, choral, and instrumental sections, as seen in the compositions of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, organists at the Church of St. Mark in Venice from 1566 to 1612. The unusual physical design of St. Mark’s, featuring multiple choir lofts, was especially conducive to sectional contrasts in dynamics, instrumentation, and spatial separation. The principle of contrast and unification is the primary feature of the later baroque concerto in which an instrument or small group of instruments is contrasted with the orchestra.

Listening Tips:

La Primavera (“Spring”) is a concerto that is also an early example of program music, music that references external objects or concepts. Vivaldi clearly indicated his references by writing the phrases of a poem in the musical score. (Those references are included in the listening guide below.) In addition, the music is structured by contrasting sections for the orchestra and the violin soloist, who is accompanied by the orchestra. This movement opens with an energetic orchestral section called a ritornello. Each of the ritornello’s two phrases is played loudly and then repeated softly in the terraced dynamics typical of baroque music. The pictorial passages in the solo sections of this movement provide contrasts between returns of the ritornello theme and contain tone painting, in which Vivaldi attempts to imitate the sound of natural objects: birds, a stream, a storm. Birdsongs are imitated by high trills and repeated notes played by violins. Murmuring streams are suggested by soft running notes. Rapid loud scales and chordal figures represent thunder and lightning.

Listening Guide:


Ritornello opening phrase: loud and soft

Spring has come,


Ritornello closing phrase: loud and soft


High repeated notes and trills

And joyfully, the birds greet it with a happy song.


Ritornello closing phrase


Running notes below sustained tones in violins.

And the streams, fanned by gentle breezes, flow along with a sweet murmur.


Ritornello closing phrase


Upward rushing scales introduce high solo violin, brilliant virtuoso passages answered by low strings

Covering the sky with a black cloak, thunder and lightening come to announce the season.


Ritornello closing phrase


High repeated notes and trills

When these have quieted down, the little birds return to their enchanting song.


Ritornello, varied


Solo violin, running notes


Ritornello closing phrase



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