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.
Between writing the opera seria that audiences demanded and the sacred works that were most composers’ bread and butter (supplemented by his own virtuosic instrumentals), Vivaldi didn’t have an opportunity to write any comedies in his lifetime. Maybe he was sublimating his punchier instincts through this concerto [click the link below to listen]:
A suitably pompous half cadence fakes the listener out at the start: instead of something grand and spacious, Vivaldi spins a tight, busy sequence of arpeggios. A flat reading of the notes on the page might comes across like a warm-up exercise, but this ensemble emphasizes the tongue-in-cheek side of things through seesaw inflection and a bit of sarcasm. Soloist Alberto Martini delivers Vivaldi’s undulating theme straightforward enough, like he’s trying to keep cool amidst all the craziness, but then flies into the rapid descending figure with abandon as well as a shining upper register. Eventually all the fuss come to a head and everyone launches into cathartic double-time [at about 1:54 in the above clip].
Incidentally, the harpsichord in this performance makes a good a case for the instrument’s merits beyond authenticity: its spindly chimes don’t just provide transparent harmonic and rhythmic support but needle the musical actors along the whole way through. Puck goes to Venice.
The second movement seems oddly reflective after the mirth of the opening, and the third and final movement relies on some cheery but predictable conventions. Maybe Vivaldi was reluctant to keep the joke going (say, with an over-the-top sendup of the stereotypical opera lament, or a parody of another composer’s work). Judging by the first movement, his comedic instincts were there. Yet since Vivaldi never lived to see the rise of opera buffa, his timing couldn’t help but be off.