• Sheryl Gwyther

Inspiring 'The Four Seasons of Caterina'

Updated: Apr 3

Five years ago, I wrote a flash fiction story set in Venice in the 18th C. With my short stories, I sometimes use the 'narrative device' of delving into the life of a famous figure in the arts, or science, literature or history and asking 'What if?' ... like Michelangelo, Galileo, Macbeth, Lewis Carroll, the Princess of Sparta, Kyniska ... and Venice's most famous son, composer, musician, teacher, the priest, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi.

My 500 word story was inspired by the theme, AUTUMN, and I called it Vivaldi's Angels. I've been a fan of Vivaldi's music for decades. I collect CDs of his works - and yes, he composed The Four Seasons, but also over 500 concertos, dozens of sacred music works, and fifty operas.

My Antonio Vivaldi passion began with the Seasons when I was a kid (my mum was into classical music and opera), but 20 years ago I began to research the scant history around this elusive genius. I discovered he was a bit of a maverick who broke musical composition rules in the early 1700s. He was quick-tempered, impatient, conceited, a control freak, but was also sensitive, kindhearted, loyal, vulnerable and generous. And he was so passionate about creating his stylistic 'shot-in-the-arm' music, it had the theorists frothing at their musical literati mouths.

He itched to musically explore more about his world ... in particular, landscapes and seasons, and people at work and play in those landscapes. Hence, The Four Seasons. Vivaldi spent a year in the Mantua countryside, and came back with a tan, better health (he suffered from what was likely bronchial asthma), and inspired to compose what he called, 'programme music' - descriptive music.

The Four Seasons is intricate, sophisticated, passionate ... every one of the 12 pieces in the composition (3 in each), establised a certain mood or narrative. So he made his chosen instruments bark like dogs and buzz like insects in Summer; blades skate across ice and rain hit windows in Winter, drunken farm workers fall about after the harvest in Autumn ... and so on.

How do we know this? Because Antonio wrote sonnets to go with the music. I get the feeling he was so caught up in the creative process, he needed words as well as music. It's worth listening to the Seasons with the sonnets ... live the process with him.

At the Hotel Metropole, the site of the original Ospedale in Venice - many features remain inside the hotel of the original building, the stairs to the practice rooms, and the courtyard.

I also discovered Antonio Vivaldi had long red hair beneath that performance wig. He was a deeply spiritual man, a priest. And he was the music master and chief composer for Venice's home for abandoned children, the Ospedale della Pietà, for over 30 years.

So I wrote my flash fiction story ... it was pretty good. But towards the end, it happened ... Vivaldi's conducting his Ospedale all-female choir in the Church of the Pietà when someone knocks over a cello up behind the grilles on the balcony where the unseen choir stand. Then that person giggles. And I know her ... it's Caterina.

Now, five years later, that single idea has become a 66,000 word novel. Who'd have thought?

Watch virtuoso violinist Mari Samuelsen play the WINTER concerto. Astonishing and brilliant interpretation of how Vivaldi used his senses that year's winter season.

Vivaldi's words for WINTER for the three movements