27 June 2024

P.R. Jenkins

Spotlight Vivaldi: “The Four Seasons”

Antonio Vivaldi’s best-known work is one of the most popular in classical music. It is a set of four violin concertos with the programmatic title “The Four Seasons”, composed 1716/1717 and published in 1725 with accompanying sonnets (probably written by Vivaldi himself), one for each concerto and season.

Karajan made two studio recordings of “The Four Seasons”. The first one was produced in 1972 with one of his concert masters, Michel Schwalbé, as solo violinist. It is interesting that a few months later, Karajan performed “The Four Seasons” for the first time live with another of his concert masters, Thomas Brandis. The recording was a best-seller. Its distinctive cover with the four apples in different state of maturity was to be seen in every second living room in 1970s Germany.

The second version was recorded in 1984 – with Anne-Sophie Mutter, Karajan’s almost exclusive violinist in the 1980s, and with the Vienna Philharmonic. The recording was destined to be Karajan’s last for EMI. A relationship ended that had begun in 1946. EMI had produced Karajan’s “Lohengrin” and “The Flying Dutchman”. Both recording procedures had been frustrating, lengthy and expensive so Karajan “owed” his old record company a financial success which “The Four Seasons” was expected to be. And it was.

The negotiations with EMI, where Mutter had a contract since 1982, were nevertheless complicated, as they also were with the Berlin Philharmonic. At this time, the relationship with his orchestra was so precarious that an argument about money made Karajan choose the Vienna Philharmonic instead. The photos for the booklet and the media campaign were made by the famous photographer Lord Snowdon. For the recording session in June 1984, Mutter and the Vienna Philharmonic musicians showed up in evening dress because they assumed they would be appearing in a concert film. Karajan did indeed produce a concert film but more than three years later on the occasion of the inauguration of the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonie – this time of course with the Berlin Philharmonic. (I presume this was the last time Karajan played the harpsichord for a film.)

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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