Why We Love Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”: An Animated Music Lesson

Remem­ber lis­ten­ing to Peter and the Wolf as a child, how the nar­ra­tor would explain that cer­tain instru­ments cor­re­spond to par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ters:  the duck — an oboe, the wolf — three horns, and so on?

In the above TED-Ed les­son (mem­o­rably ani­mat­ed by Com­pote Col­lec­tive), music his­to­ri­an Bet­sy Schwarm ful­fills much the same role for The Four Sea­sons by Anto­nio Vival­di. (Stream it here.)

Why are we so drawn to this Baroque con­cer­to? Is it because we asso­ciate it with brunch?

The hun­dreds of movies and com­mer­cials that have fea­tured it?

(Direc­tor Robert Ben­ton chose Vival­di rather than an orig­i­nal com­pos­er for the score of Kramer vs. Kramer, argu­ing that “Con­cer­to in C Major for Man­dolin & Strings” cap­tured the trou­bled Man­hat­tan couple’s refined lifestyle far bet­ter than the John Williams-esque bom­bast the ear asso­ciates with some many oth­er cin­e­mat­ic hits of the peri­od. The 1979 film’s suc­cess sent “The Four Sea­sons” to the top of the charts.)

These pleas­ant asso­ci­a­tions no doubt account for some of our fond­ness, but Pro­fes­sor Schwarm posits that the sto­ries con­tained in the melodies are what real­ly reel us in.

Basi­cal­ly, we’re in the thrall of a musi­cal weath­er report, rev­el­ing in the way Vival­di man­ages to bring to life both the birdies’ sun­ny spring song and the sud­den thun­der­storm that dis­rupts it.

Sum­mer rolls out the mete­o­ro­log­i­cal big guns with a hail­storm.

Autumn’s cool­er night­time tem­per­a­tures keep the wine-flushed peas­ants from turn­ing their har­vest cel­e­bra­tions into a full-on bac­cha­nal.

Win­ter? Well per­haps you’re tucked up con­tent­ed­ly in front of the fire­place right now, grat­i­fied to be hear­ing your own com­fort echoed in the largo sec­tion.

Inspired by the land­scape paint­ings of artist, Mar­co Ric­ci, Vival­di penned four poems that dri­ve the move­ments of his most famous work. Their trans­la­tions, below, are nowhere near as elo­quent to the mod­ern listener’s ear, but you’ll find that read­ing them along with your favorite record­ing of the Four Sea­sons will cor­rob­o­rate Pro­fes­sor Schwarm’s the­sis.

Spring – Con­cer­to in E Major


Spring­time is upon us.

The birds cel­e­brate her return with fes­tive song,

and mur­mur­ing streams are soft­ly caressed by the breezes.

Thun­der­storms, those her­alds of Spring, roar, cast­ing their dark man­tle over heav­en,

Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charm­ing songs once more.


On the flower-strewn mead­ow, with leafy branch­es rustling over­head, the goat-herd sleeps, his faith­ful dog beside him.


Led by the fes­tive sound of rus­tic bag­pipes, nymphs and shep­herds light­ly dance beneath the bril­liant canopy of spring.

Sum­mer – Con­cer­to in g‑minor

Alle­gro non molto

Beneath the blaz­ing sun’s relent­less heat

men and flocks are swel­ter­ing,

pines are scorched.

We hear the cuck­oo’s voice; then sweet songs of the tur­tle dove and finch are heard.

Soft breezes stir the air….but threat­en­ing north wind sweeps them sud­den­ly aside. The shep­herd trem­bles, fear­ful of vio­lent storm and what may lie ahead.

Ada­gio e piano — Presto e forte

His limbs are now awak­ened from their repose by fear of light­ning’s flash and thun­der’s roar, as gnats and flies buzz furi­ous­ly around.


Alas, his worst fears were jus­ti­fied, as the heav­ens roar and great hail­stones beat down upon the proud­ly stand­ing corn.

Autumn – Con­cer­to in F Major


The peas­ant cel­e­brates with song and dance the har­vest safe­ly gath­ered in.

The cup of Bac­chus flows freely, and many find their relief in deep slum­ber.

Ada­gio molto

The singing and the danc­ing die away

as cool­ing breezes fan the pleas­ant air,

invit­ing all to sleep

with­out a care.


The hunters emerge at dawn,

ready for the chase,

with horns and dogs and cries.

Their quar­ry flees while they give chase.

Ter­ri­fied and wound­ed, the prey strug­gles on,

but, har­ried, dies

Win­ter – Con­cer­to in F‑minor

Alle­gro non molto

Shiv­er­ing, frozen mid the frosty snow in bit­ing, sting­ing winds;

run­ning to and fro to stamp one’s icy feet, teeth chat­ter­ing in the bit­ter chill.


To rest con­tent­ed­ly beside the hearth, while those out­side are drenched by pour­ing rain.


We tread the icy path slow­ly and cau­tious­ly, for fear of trip­ping and falling.

Then turn abrupt­ly, slip, crash on the ground and, ris­ing, has­ten on across the ice lest it cracks up.

We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolt­ed doors…

this is win­ter, which nonethe­less brings its own delights.


You can down­load the Wichi­ta State Uni­ver­si­ty Cham­ber Play­ers’ record­ing of Vivaldi’s “Four Sea­sons” for free here.

See how well you retained your TED-ED les­son with a mul­ti­ple choice quiz, then read more here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why We Love Rep­e­ti­tion in Music: Explained in a New TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion

Stream 58 Hours of Free Clas­si­cal Music Select­ed to Help You Study, Work, or Sim­ply Relax

The World Con­cert Hall: Lis­ten To The Best Live Clas­si­cal Music Con­certs for Free

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in less than three weeks. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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