For several weeks Aesthetic, Not Anesthetic covered a different Vivaldi concerto every Sunday. He’s one of my favorite composers, a statement that for most serious classical listeners is like expressing one’s love for Kraft singles at a wine and cheese party. Stravinsky’s quip about Vivaldi writing the same concerto six hundred times still has critical as well as popular (enough) legs.
Domenica con Vivaldi was an attempt to stick up for a musician who takes a lot of merda for having a recognizable, occasionally redundant but ultimately satisfying style. It was also a chance to hear the many soloists, ensembles and approaches that make Vivaldi’s music interesting and relevant. It started with personal favorites in no particular order but then began surveying the published works, starting with Vivaldi’s game changing Opus Three, then onto the wild stravaganze of Opus Four and through to the famous “Four Seasons” concerti of Opus 8.
Then it stopped.
I stopped. Aside from the incessant demands by dozens and then thousands of readers, clamoring for yet still more Vivaldi (perhaps an exaggeration), the column began to miss the point. It began listening for something, rather than listening to the music. One approach focuses on the listener’s preconceived notions, the other on the music. One is an exercise, the other an exploration.
Listening to Vivaldi’ music in a less tidy manner and letting the music find its own way into my ears and mind has worked out far better. Lately, instead of the neatly organized publications assembled by Vivaldi and/or his publisher, I’ve stayed hooked through the magic of my iPod’s “Shuffle” setting. Listening randomly to just the five albums of Vivaldi concertos on the Naïve label, I get the sweet, singing pirouettes of the Violin Concerto in E (RV268) with I Barrochisti’s charming organ continuo:
Pomo D’Oro’s spiky harp and plucking violins making string percussion on RV181a:
and Enrico Onofri sculpting with fire in the final movement of the Violin Concerto in D, “L’Inquietudine” (RV 234, “Restlessness”):
That last one really hammers home the difference between exercise and exploration: few soloists can make technical passages like these interesting, let alone riveting. Slower but just as intense, the Adagio from the Violin Concerto in G (RV307) features I Barocchisti’s soft, dewy strings bookending a passionate solo by Duilio Galfetti:
Those strings murmuring behind Galfetti remind me of Wagner discussing another Italian composer’s music, using a description that’s so far from the point it takes you full circle back to it. The Godfather of Snob compared Donizetti’s orchestration to a “big guitar.” Pity Wagner and Stravinsky never get their group hate on.
Wagner’s description may seem to apply to Vivaldi’s music, but of course the difference is that a string section (especially one like I Barrochisti) can never be a big guitar. They sound different, and in the end music is sound. A guitar and a string section can both lay down harmonies but will never do the same thing. All of these tracks, plus the other ninety-six or so on my iPod, are for a violin soloist with orchestra. They’re also all written by same composer, who does use a lot of sequences as well as signature harmonies and rhythms. Yet they can never be the same music.