Vivaldi’s Spring – Sneak Peek Into Civ Arts

Of all the inspiring courses I took at Grove City, an absolute favorite was Civilization and the Arts—an enlightening exploration of visual art and music throughout Western history (and a required Humanities Core experience shared by every Grover). In Civ Arts, not only did I gain eyes to see Vermeer and ears to hear Bach and Beethoven: I grew to deeply appreciate beauty as a reflection of our Creator God.

Below, Dr. Drake, (Professor of Music and Humanities), shares his insight on this familiar tune that so beautifully captures the essence of spring. If you’re up for an edifying experience, listen and read on for a sneak peek into this course at Grove City College…

Spring flowers on campus.2

It may not be a standard ringtone yet, but the first movement of Vivaldi’s Spring Concerto (in E Major, Op. 8 RV. 269 “Spring,” mvt. 1: Allegro) is certainly famous. As musical articulations of seasons go, its familiarity is unrivaled. Those who know the piece at all know that Vivaldi circulated with it, as he did with each of the concerti from The Four Seasons, a poem that serves as a sort of guide for the music itself. The relationship between this poem and the music is so obvious that it borders on sound-effects (with violin’s playing bird-song signaled by a line in the poem about birds, and violent glissandi signaled by a line in the poem about thunder and lightning).

For those who are interested in musical, as opposed to mere sonic, meaning, the piece has a structure that satisfies—an opening section of music reappears, but does so in different keys and modes, only to return satisfactorily to the home key for a final articulation. This is a common behavior for the best sort of music from the Baroque—a period that was beginning to discover how to use key as a way of creating narrative drama in music. What people rarely notice consciously (though they are probably moved by it deeply anyhow) is how the opening section of music is melodically like spring. The melody climaxes on the fifth scale degree, does that again, and then trails off to articulate a harmony that is anticipatory. This is all neatly repeated, giving us a sense that the fifth scale degree is important (think ‘so’ in ‘do, re, mi, fa, so’).

Spring sunset on campusWhen we finally get to the bit of music that will be repeated periodically throughout the movement, we get stuck on the fifth scale degree again, flirting with the sixth. We do that three times and then finally—after rather a long time waiting for it—work our way to the home note of the scale (that is, ‘do’). So, the opening melody, like spring, is full of anticipation. We wait so long on the note of anticipation, flirting with it as a place of temporary repose, that we wonder if ever we will reach the tonic—and then it finally arrives, as the last note of the melody. Spring is just like that, in that we have presentments of it for so long—thaws and crocuses—that we wonder if ever it will come. And then the Lord brings the sunshine.

Whether or not that resonates with you now, at Grove City you would have full access to this wealth of knowledge and more. For a breakdown of the classes that comprise our Humanities Core, check out this post.

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