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.
Besides, even if Vivaldi’s publisher chose to conclude Opus Seven with an imposter, it still makes a rousing closer: the racing first movement, with its rocketing ascents and breathless atmosphere, followed by a pleasant melodic stopover in the second movement and capped off by the soloist’s gymnastics in the third movement, often sans continuo and with just threadbare orchestra.
Drop out the supporting parts behind the soloist and the final movement feels like a work for unaccompanied violin. Unlike works written in that genre by Bach or Telemann, this movement is a purely violinistic display. Give it another listen and hear how it thrives on purely technical devices such as octaves, trills and double-stops, all at a furious tempo:
Instead of narrative continuity or contrapuntal allusions, Vivaldi (or Gallo, or whoever) focuses on the instrument and by extension the performer. Whether or not that makes this work less or more purely “musical” is a matter of taste. It just has its own priorities, and they’re made clear at the outset.