As I listened to a recent performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, I realized the significance of what the composer accomplished and the awareness that allowed him to create such a work. A sonnet accompanies each of the movements—Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter—and it’s believed that Vivaldi was inspired by the four paintings of the seasons by the Italian artist Marco Ricci. Vivaldi’s music reflects the contrasts between the seasons, as well as the various aspects within each, with deep understanding.
The music invites you in to see, feel, and hear the experiences throughout the work. The multifaceted contrast of the seasons is a perfect metaphor for the creative consciousness all artists must achieve in order to effectively communicate through their art forms. Artists know the significance of contrast in defining meaning; that there isn’t much meaning without contrast. I realized while listening that the meaning created through contrast at the hands of the composer is very much like our own personal experiences as we move through our lives. Just as the artist uses contrast to create meaning, the contrasts in our daily lives give us a sense of who we are, what we want, and how we fit in the world. All of our experiences are defined by the value or quality relative to something else.
Nothing is anything by itself, only in relation to other things.
~ Robert Levers
In The Four Seasons, each season is a concerto with three sections. The publisher includes the sonnets in the scores and marks them to indicate which musical passages are representative of which verses of the sonnets. This is the sonnet and three tempo markings for “Autumn.”
Autumn—Concerto No. 3 in F Major, Op. 8, RV 293
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.
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.
There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.
Nothing exists in itself.
~ Herman Melville
In addition to defining meaning and relationships, contrast is closely tied to our perception as human beings. It’s at the root of almost every decision we make; it’s a part of everything we see, do, experience, and understand.
The following are two visual interpretations of autumn. While not the same stylistically, they both use contrast—such as color, structure, and movement—to explore and bring meaning to the season.
If you aren’t familiar with the music by Vivaldi, take the time to listen to the Concerto in F Major—Autumn from The Four Seasons and read the sonnet above. It’s rich with the contrast of the season itself.
A curve does not exist in its full power until contrasted with a straight line.
~ Robert Henri
Look for contrast in everything you see and in every aspect of your own daily experiences. See and feel deeply. Just like an artist, steps taken now to develop this sort of habit will pay huge dividends later on.