Antonio Vivaldi wrote more than 500 concertos. Today, most people know four of them. But those four — commonly known as “The Four Seasons” — have become part of our cultural fabric. They may not even be his best concertos, but they’re ubiquitous. Even if you don’t know classical music, or think you know them, you’ve heard “The Four Seasons” — in movie soundtracks, on TV ads or playing on Muzak loops.
There’s a weird alchemical process involved in the crowning of cultural icons. Why have “The Four Seasons” prevailed when equally strong Vivaldi works are far less known? They’re good music, certainly. They sparkle. They’re filled with catchy tunes that propel the music forward and never overstay their welcome. They are also among the first examples of program music, illustrating the world around them: This is a cold winter wind, this is a spring cuckoo. For those uncertain about what they are supposed to be listening for in so-called classical music, concrete illustrations are a welcome point of orientation.