Domenica con Vivaldi: Il “Thrash”

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.

Concerto No. 5 in E Minor
RV 280
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Federico Guglielmo
Ensemble: Arte del Arco

Baroque concertos and jazz jam sessions alike feature soloists snapping into intricate runs over a cooking accompaniment. No surprises there: technical and expressive virtuosity would be just as seductive for eighteenth century listeners as twentieth century ones. Listening to this concerto, it seems that Vivaldi’s audiences also enjoyed the type of thrashing display now associated with rock [just click the link to listen]:

Vivaldi: Opus 6, Concerto No.5 in E minor, RV280, I. Allegro

Hear the way the soloist tears in after those perfectly ordered fourths at the start? No finely wrought phrases, no harmonic or rhythmic explorations, just pure shredding violin. Even the rhythm section (“continuo” in Baroque-speak) moves from structured foundation under the orchestra to a goading crowd behind the soloist.

The halting spiccato and smoother arpeggios of the second movement sound ironically tender in the midst of this assault. They also seem to inspire more carefully crafted solos in the third movement, with the soloist entering on a meticulously detailed ascent followed by icy plunges.

That first movement remains a hard act to follow. Granted, violinist Federico Guglielmo and his band play up the visceral side of this work, but no matter what the interpretation, Vivaldi’s solo always come out sounding like a beast on a bender.  Fellow thrasher and longhaired redhead Dave Mustaine would be proud.

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2 thoughts on “Domenica con Vivaldi: Il “Thrash”

  1. I enjoy this concerto!. E-minor was Vivaldi’s favorite key as we found by him nicknaming one of the concertos “Il Favorito” and his tendency for pieces in G-Major to use E-minor second movements, and pieces in E-minor to use E-minor second movements as well. Not to mention some of his most expressive music is written in E-minor.

    Vivaldi was a master violinist, this is without doubt. People criticize Vivaldi’s “cooking accompaniments” (love that phrase as well). I disagree with people’s criticism, because if the bass is too important, ala Bach, it detracts from the soloist and makes the concerto sound like a concerto grosso.

    One critique: you said at the beginning “baroque concertos…” I would say “Vivaldian Baroque Concertos and those following his style”. Albinoni’s works, for example, which are considered perfectly contemporary, do not have this quality. His bass is much more lively and plays a greater role. His works also tend to have less fluid transitions between tutti and solo sections of the ritornello. It comes across as “blocky”. Veracini and other concerto composers run into this issue as well.

    • M. Figg says:

      This is a favorite of mine too. Great point about the role of the bass, and about just what makes these works unique among Baroque composers. “Blockiness” is a good way to describe those other works. I’m not a huge fan of Albinoni but I do enjoy Veracini, and at times I’m more in the mood for that style.

      I am looking forward to relistening to all of these works in light of your comments. Thanks so much for your analyses, and please keep ‘em coming!

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