Tag Archives: Opus 6

Domenica con Vivaldi: Right There in the Score

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. 6 in D Minor
RV 239
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Virtuosi Italiani

Lots of variety here: the vigorously contrapuntal opening and the soloist’s a capella entrance sticking out like a bright screwdriver in some dense, churning machine, the pacific lyricism of the second movement and the finale’s rhythmic twists and harmonic turns. Even the soloist seems overcome by it all, staggering his way through the first solo before wrapping into some unexpected phrase endings:

What’s most surprising is that it’s all done with “just” strings. Absent any wind colors or exotic tuning, Vivaldi creates variety with a uniform palette. The music would work just as well with a chorus, or a band of double reeds (man, I’d love to hear this arranged for an orchestra of oboes, English horns and bassoons). In addition, while it might conjure up a variety of images and memories, there’s no clever subtitles or musical representation of storms or birds. Instead, the music is just music, pure aesthetics, unconnected with the external world and filled with possibility.

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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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Domenica con Vivaldi: Stormy Weather

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. 4 in D
RV 216
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Federico Guglielmo
Ensemble: Arte del Arco

Watching Vivaldi during a storm must have been like sitting across from Andy Warhol with a bowl of consommé. Thunder and lightning proved just as inspiring for the composer as soup cans for Warhol, and Vivaldi also offered very personal, highly stylized interpretations of his material.  He doesn’t even name this concerto yet its swelling arpeggios and buffeting basses  let the audience know exactly what’s going on [click below to play]:

Vivaldi: Concerto No.4 in D, RV216, I. Allegro

The soloist builds its own heavy weather with one of Vivaldi’s favorite and most exciting devices, racing skyward while the bass line harps on a descending figure, intricate moving parts adding up to bravura display for the soloist and a visceral sensation for the listener. Yet Vivaldi resolves this scene with the soloist spiraling downward over a thinner texture [at 0:40], like a leaf or lost child carried away amidst all the wind and rain. Whatever it is, it’s soon back [at 1:05] for more sprinting and dancing in the middle of the storm. Violinist Federico Guglielmo’s performance lets that contrast between confidence and innocence sound like a spontaneous narrative rather than a reading from an exercise book.

With the right soloist, Vivaldi’s music blends pictorial and technical elements into an entirely unique experience. The second movement centers on a sequence of palpitating orchestral chords and a deceptively simple, teasing solo line, another Vivaldi favorite, yet this time the soloist turns mysterious and intriguing just in time for the movement to draw to a close, leaving the listener suddenly gasping for more:

Vivaldi: Concerto No.4 in D, RV216, II. Adagio

Without any musicological evidence, it’s fun to imagine the composer/soloist/conductor signaling the ensemble to return to the “top” and indulging in further explorations on the same “changes.”  Yet the big storm’s over so Vivaldi closes with a very happy and similarly idiosyncratic ending, with a jolly, foursquare ritornello and a warm, folksy melody from the soloist:

Vivaldi: Concerto No.4 in D, RV216, III. Allegro

The minor key episode [at 0:55 and 1:25] and the soloist’s cadenza [busting up the party at 1:55] are entirely formal touches, completely expected yet still dear to the composer and just as exciting. Most of the musical and dramatic interest of this concerto and the others in this set comes from the soloist, sometimes just from him sawing away over a pulsing bass line. He’s come a long way from concerto grosso homage to his stylistic daddies.

Unlike Warhol, Vivaldi would return to this format and this topic throughout his career. Most of Vivaldi’s concertos would be based around a single soloist, and his instrumentals and operas would be filled with storms (Opus 8 offers both the “Storm at Sea” concerto and the well-known tempest that climaxes the “Summer” concerto). The differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes drastic, between all those violin solos and storms portray a musician who loved the sound a racing violin and thunderclaps. Who needs memoirs or TMZ?

Mmm, Mmm, Topical!

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Solo Flight

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. 3 in G Major
RV 318
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: I Virtuosi Italiani

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

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Domenica con Vivaldi: The Rhyming Concerto

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. 2 in E flat
RV 259
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Federico Guglielmo
Ensemble: Arte del Arco

One of the most frequent criticisms (or in the case of more erudite ears, jokes) leveled at Vivaldi is his reliance on sequences. A sequence is essentially a repeated theme played at a different pitch each time. It uses the same motif, with the same rhythm and same distance between notes, just starting on a higher or lower note with each repetition. For example, if you play E, D, C, D, E, E, E on the piano, then move it up by one note to play F, E, D, E, F, F, F and then keep moving that first note up (to G, then A, etc.) while keeping the same motion of notes, congratulations, you’ve just built on a tuneful, climactic sequence on “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”

Saying that Vivaldi liked sequences is like saying that poets enjoy rhyme. Sequences are everywhere in Vivaldi’s music. The first movement of this concerto is almost entirely composed of sequences, yet somehow repetition never gets repetitive. Each sequence builds upon the last, even when they’re not using the same theme, culminating in a well-structured, elegant yet damn rhythmic exploration of musical symmetry (just click below to listen):

Concerto No.2 in E flat, RV259, I. Allegro

The infective, almost childishly stomping theme seems more like a parade of toys than an imperial procession. It struts its stuff proudly but not pompously, what little “stuff” there is. Listeners can hear when and how often themes get repeated, but there’s not much thematic variety, and the soloist relies on a catchy but modest bag of tricks.  The overall impression is of raindrops hitting water, with all the ripples eventually folding in upon one another while never breaking each others’ lines.

Vivaldi’s concerto also keeps our attention even if we’re just listening to drops on the lake.  It’s not the rapt intellectual attention of a Mahler symphony or “Chasin’ the Trane,” but more like a funk soloist keeping the crowd hooked with simple, trance-inducing riffs that keeps ears and hips going without taxing any brains.  Part of this effect also has to do with the violinist adding textural and inflective variety, an understanding that musical repetition is an invitation for creativity and contrast, rather than slavish consistency.

Sequences are the closest thing music can get to rhyme. When we hear a sequence we sense the simultaneity of difference and similarity, how phrases sound alike even as they’re diffracted through a harmonic prism. The same thing happens when a person notices rhyme in a poem or a song, not just the way that “see” and “thee” couple to make a larger impression (even though the words may be a whole line a part), but the sheer aural sense of play, the vowels teasingly similar except for those tricky consonants making all the difference. Vivaldi liked sequences the same way poets liked rhyme; does that make Vivaldi poetic, or does that mean poets are unoriginal?

To hear the concerto in its entirety, including Vivaldi’s beautifully mysterious Largo and the energetic final movement, click here and here.

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Domenica con Vivaldi: Baroque Bootleg

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. 1 in G Minor
RV 324
Solo Instrument: Violin
Published as Part of: Opus 6
Soloist: Alberto Martini
Ensemble: Orchestra da Camera “I Filarmonici,” conducted by Martini

You’re popular when people start asking for your music, and you’re a hit when they begin to just take it.  Historical evidence indicates that Vivaldi’s Opus 6 was printed and distributed by his Amsterdam publisher without the composer’s involvement or possibly even his permission.  That’s unfortunate, since a little artistic input might have gone a long way.

Opus 6 never made the popular or historical splash of Vivaldi’s previous two collections of concertos, and the first work in the set may explain why. Its French-style dotted rhythms proceed with academic stiffness rather than Gaulish grace:

Devices such as the dark key and drum-like accompaniment had been put to more kinetic or introspective ends by Vivaldi in dozens of other concertos, yet here they just seem to lecture. The soloist jettisons the rigid orchestral motif but its repeated phrases quickly turn from clever to predictable. The bottom shelf Vivaldi (as well as the dearth of independent performing editions and wealth of typos in the publication) inspire images of Vivaldi’s publisher picking scraps off of their client’s cutting room floor.

Some Italian soul returns in the second and third movements, with the Grave’s solo cello seconding one of Vivaldi’s most lonesome melodies [starting at 3:50] and the sudden double time explosions of the bouncing final movement [at 6:53].  Yet overall this concerto feels like a modest opener to a collection everyone seemed to want, except its author.  Vivaldi may not have appreciated his works being sold under his nose, but there was money to be made with his name and music.  With Opus 6, the violinist, composer, educator and impresario could now add “cash cow” to his resume.

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Concert Review: Balance and Ballistics in Handel & Haydn’s “Four Seasons”

What can an eighteenth century Venetian composer and priest tell us about hard-hitting individuality?  Plenty, especially with Aisslinn Nosky‘s bow firing off his ubiquitous Four Seasons alongside Beantown’s own Handel and Haydn Society.  Small wonder director Harry Christophers was shaking his rear end as much as his conducting hand by the end of the show.

My review of some subjective, idiosyncratic and thoroughly fun Baroque on The Boston Musical Intelligencer:

Handel and Haydn’s Varied, Visceral Four Seasons

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