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"The Four Seasons" by Antonio Vivaldi
with Willard Scott and Thomas Kelly

NBC Weatherman Willard Scott in NPR's Studio
On this edition of Milestones of the Millennium we explore Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," a set of four violin concertos that, in the 20th century, seem as pervasive as any other musical work. PT host Martin Goldsmith is joined by an expert on the changing seasons, the weatherman on NBC's Today Show, Willard Scott. Scott reads from four sonnets that Vivaldi published as textual narrative for his instrumental works. We are also joined by Harvard University professor and musicologist Thomas Kelly, who explores the extraordinary popularity of "The Four Seasons," and their timeless appeal to both performers and listeners.

Kelly says Vivaldi more likely considered himself an opera composer, and claimed that he could write a concerto faster than anyone else could transcribe it. It's ironic that such a prolific composer would be so well-recognized for only four concertos; in fact, Vivaldi wrote at least 500 concertos in his lifetime. We hear selections from a a collection of 12 concertos called "L'estro armonico" that influenced even the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the second and third movements from the Concerto No. 6 in A minor, violinist Simon Standage joins Trevor Pinnock and the period-instrument ensemble the English Concert.

A few years ago, violinist Gil Shaham made news when his recording of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" was featured on the Weather Channel. Shaham and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra perform the piece that was featured in their Weather Channel video "Winter." Then weatherman Willard Scott reads the sonnets that Vivaldi included with the score. He begins with his rendition of "Winter."

Kelly explains his ambivalence about the prevalence of "The Four Seasons" as background music in restaurants, stores and elevators, and their perhaps excessive use in soundtracks for film and television. On the one hand, the beauty and intricacy of these excellent scores deserves widespread attention. In fact, Vivaldi was all but forgotten until the resurgence in popularity of these four concertos began in the middle of the 20th century. But to Kelly, they're just too good to be background, and deserve to be heard above the din of conversation and the dialogue from a movie. We later turn to warmer weather, as Willard Scott returns to read the "Summer" sonnet, and violinist Simon Standage performs "Summer" with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert.

One of the finest recordings of "The Four Seasons" features Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova. We hear her join conductor Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe to perform the "Autumn" Concerto, and Willard Scott concludes his readings with the "Autumn" sonnet.

Listen as Willard Scott and Thomas Kelly join PT host Martin Goldsmith to examine Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," bringing these consummate works back into the foreground on Milestones of the Millenium. Note: Some music parts have been edited from the commentary because of internet rights issues. (This audio segment requires the free RealPlayer 5.0 or higher. Portions of the music have been edited from this online version. You can also listen with a 14.4 connection)

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