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.
“Dig” those driving ensemble unisons, or how each of the violin solos exploits a different thematic angle, from slicing and dicing intervals [at 0:18 in the above clip] to angular leaps [0:46], onto a brief but tender aside [1:26] and finally some gratuitous but satisfying showmanship [at 1:30] .
There’s an overall leanness and flow to this concerto that disguises its subtler edges (which some listeners may hear as a symptom of this group’s choice of tempo). The first movement is sculpted with plenty of small but effective decorations to the musical line, and the second movement subtly scoops and scatters into several directions:
Vivaldi would tighten this lyrical episode further, keeping the framework but trimming away those curlicues to create the middle movement of the more well-known “Winter” concerto:
Getting back to the concerto of the day, the unrelenting 12/8 skip of its third and final movement is built from a tortuously detailed line, not unlike an eighteenth century bebop head. The sudden ending might have even brought a smile to Monk’s face:
With the wrong soloist, all those tricky details could sound sloppy, or finicky. In the right hands, they don’t just sound “easy,” but integrated, natural and important. As for the whole work, it paints a picture of Vivaldi as someone who simply enjoyed the way a line snaps into place and assumes its own course, a musician obsessed with the technical scope and expressive power of the instrument he devoted his life to. In other words, it’s not an innovation or a revelation; it’s a piece of music.