Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678-July 28, 1741) composed over five hundred concertos, yet Stravinsky joked that Vivaldi actually wrote the same concerto five hundred times. Many of the Venetian composer/violinist’s concertos display similar traits, making them instantly recognizable as the work of the same artist. Yet how each performer (and listener) approaches Vivaldi’s concertos makes all the difference. “Sundays with Vivaldi” will take Il Prete Rosso’s concertos one at a time, and see whether each of these things is in fact like the others.
Yesterday was Bloomsday, the annual celebration of James Joyce, his seminal novel Ulysses and the exploits of its protagonist Leo Bloom in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Joyce’s dense prose and deluge of consciousness, filled with “…enigmas and puzzles [to] keep the professors busy for centuries…” doesn’t just preclude immediate understanding but much like the characters, situations and emotions it portrays, escapes the very notion of “understanding.”
Ulysses is deep. It’s complex. It’s thoroughly “modern.” It’s the type of thing Vivaldi would have hated, at least judging by this concerto:
Comparatively speaking, the ninth concerto in Vivaldi’s Opus 4 might be the collection’s most uneventful (or as close to uneventful as Vivaldi can get). The first movement centers around a rhythmic motif and dueling violinists. Ravishing harmonic meanderings occupy the central Largo, and the final movement seems bound up in the very conventions Vivaldi himself popularized: rapid-fire drills from the soloists between snappy orchestral responses. It’s not bad or even boring, but the listener has “been there, done that” during the rest of La Stravaganza.
At the same time this concerto’s clearly defined structure, immediacy of form as well as feeling and expression of the composer’s style in such personal, direct gestures also make it perhaps the most distinctly Vivaldian work in the set. Vivaldi’s fingerprints are all over it, without any inferential haze or oh-so-smart, so damned subtle allusions to cover them up. Vivaldi wasn’t afraid to put himself out front and center, or to give his audience something they could understand (even when he was pushing musical or dramatic envelopes).
Of course no one knows for sure what Vivaldi would have thought of Joyce’s book, and since Vivaldi’s works were still collecting dust in Joyce’s time, we’ll never know what the author would have thought of Vivaldi’s music. It’s safe to guess they would have agreed to disagree. The erudite, open-minded Joyce might have even conceded that “form” isn’t always a dirty word, and sometimes it’s harder to personalize conventions rather than simply ignore them.
And a very happy Father’s Day to all the dads, grandpas, papas, paters, patriarchs and anyone else reading this post, plus my own father, who thinks “blogging” is a form of pirate-era torture (or maybe an exotic dessert topping). Love ‘ya, Dad!