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.
This is another Vivaldi concertos where we hear less of the composer and more of the violinist and virtuoso (and perhaps show-off). The first movement is all about the soloist cutting loose with sleek patterns, driving repetitions and tangy dissonances:
Passages like these might not illustrate a brilliant composer, but it’s easy to imagine Vivaldi ad-libbing these lines for a live audience and whipping them into a frenzy, just as jazz musicians do today. The orchestra functions as a big rhythm section, contributing some spurring moments (like the wide, unexpected swoops at 1:40 in the above clip) but mostly providing cresting patterns for the soloist to ride. This might be a snapshot of what an eighteenth century gig may have sounded like.
The second movement, an episode for violin commentary between orchestra chords, and the third, a rushing episode given over entirely to the ensemble, are pleasant but not as gripping. Vivaldi gives the soloist (i.e. himself) the most interesting material. As for whether a written improvisation lacks the purity of a completely sui generis creation, to paraphrase Louis Armstrong, sometimes it’s helpful not to worry about which cow makes the milk and just enjoy the flavor